By Theresa Albert, Toronto Nutritionist
One of the nastiest tasks in a parent’s week is grocery shopping. Don’t get me wrong, when I have the time, I love nothing more than wandering the aisles and reading labels trolling for new options. The trouble is most weeks don’t allow that “enough time” element. And, there are people who simply detest the entire process perceiving it as a chore. Or worse, those who are forced to shop for food with a toddler who is enticed by all the pretty colored packages at his eye level?
It is that very speed of life that opened the door to the “shortcuts” that that now grace our shelves. The convenience foods, frozen foods and “Home Meal Replacements” have grown to fill the gap that time took away. It appears to be easier to grab one package of, say, lasagna than to buy meat, cheese, tomato sauce, and noodles separately. But at what cost? Flavor? Nutrients? Sodium Levels? Fat levels? The risk of overweight and yet undernourished children?
So how does a parent walk the line? Here are some tips:
- Use some packaged foods judiciously to fill the gap but be sure to load up with fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Take the time to read the labels of your favorite foods at least once and watch for any changes. You really do want to know how many calories and/or sodium is in a reasonable serving before you serve it to your child. That is the only way to gauge how much is too much and look for other better ways to fill the plate.
- Find brands that you can trust. There are manufacturers out there who are working really hard to earn your dollar. Some that claim to save your dollar are moving in the wrong direction. I know it is tempting but you don’t want cheap food, you do want good food. The cheap food comes with a hefty cost in the long run.
- Don’t buy any packaged meal that doesn’t contain fibre. All whole foods start off with fibre, processing often removes it and what you end up with is soft and nutrition free “food” that is filled with fat and salt.
- Watch for sodium levels. Packages have to have a % amount of sodium, just remember that these numbers are for adults, even when on a kid package. A child’s tolerance is lower and the last thing we want is to set them up for a salty journey. If a food they love is too high in salt, find a way to spread it out, one slice of pizza cut into tiny squares on a platter with carrot sticks, celery sticks and hummus. This is much better than two slices of pizza and hoping for the best.
- Anything can be improved. Just think outside the box! Fruit or veggie add in’s take seconds and can make or break a meal. Take a look at this tweaked mac and cheese:
Better Packaged Mac and Cheese
Even the ubiquitous mac and cheese comes in a whole grain version now and a few tweaks can make it even better.
1 package whole grain mac and cheese
¼ cup grated low fat mozzarella
¼ cup frozen squash, warmed and mashed (or jarred baby food)
¼ cup frozen peas, warmed
¼ cup wheat germ
1 grated apple
Make mac and cheese as per package directions but omit the butter or margarine. Once cooked, stir grated cheese and mashed squash into the sauce. Stir in peas. Mix together wheat germ and grated apple and top the bowl.
Note: If time allows, do this in a casserole dish to crisp up the topping in the oven at 400 for 10 minutes.
About the Author:
Theresa Albert is a nutritionist and food communications consultant. Her Food Network show,Just One Bite! aired for 5 years on both Food Network and BBC Kids. She is currently a trusted on-camera correspondent for CTV Newschannel as well as CBC and regular health expert on the daily lifestyle show, Steven and Chris which airs internationally.
Named one of Canada’s Top 25 Tweeters by Today’s Parent Magazine and one of Savvymom.ca’s 35 Favorite Bloggers, she is called for comment from every major magazine, newspaper and television outlet in Canada. She has a weekly column in the Metro Newspaper and regularly writes features for Today’s Parent, Canadian Family Magazine and blogs at Huffington Post.