Childhood obesity is becoming a global epidemic, and along with increasing rates of chronic diseases of lifestyle, from diabetes and high blood pressure to high cholesterol and cancers, it is apparent that the state of our children’s health is in a dire situation.
In South Africa, 14.2% of primary school children are overweight or obese, and at the current rate, it is predicted that a whopping 3.91 million school children in South Africa will be overweight or obese by the year 2025.
As parents, paying closer attention to how our food choices could be affecting our children’s health is an absolute must. But modern life is so demanding, with most parents juggling domestic duties and full-time jobs, leaving little time for food preparation.
And while options such as take-aways, ready-made meals and quick supermarket snacks are convenient, they’re mostly packed with added sugars, salt, preservatives, trans-fats and a number of other processed ingredients.
Even seemingly healthy childhood favourites such as biltong, salami, viennas, lunch meats and polony have all been linked to increased risk for cancer.
This is one of the many reasons I promote a plant-based diet for children.
Not only are plant-protein options free of the harmful carcinogens, heavy metals, environmental contaminants, cholesterol and hormones that are often found in meat and dairy but they are also full of beneficial vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants which help to fight disease and keep children healthy.
Also see: 50 family-friendly recipes
Since plant-protein options are my preferred choice of protein, I always encourage parents to make sure that there is a good source of these at every meal.
This includes foods such as legumes, natural soya products, peanut butter, quinoa, and nuts and seeds are all high in good quality plant proteins.
Vegan food products such as Fry’s, Earth Products, Quorn, and the Woolworths Vegetarian Range make for great nutritious meat alternatives.
How to make healthy, nutritious plant-based meals easily:
1. Make use of healthy and nutritious convenience products
Healthy and nutritious ready-made snacks may be few in number but you can take advantage of the great products that are readily available on our supermarket shelves.
Natural dairy-free yoghurts, pre-cut veg sticks, commercial hummus, plain popcorn, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, whole-grain crackers all make for quick healthy snack options.
2. Make one-pot meals
Yes, a variety of food groups are needed at each meal to make a healthy balanced meal, but that doesn’t mean that meals need to be made up of a number of different dishes in order to make them balance.
In fact, putting all your different food groups into one dish can help to reduce preparation time and reduce wastage as well as making certain food groups, such as vegetables, more acceptable for picky eaters.
So, why not try a hearty pasta, risotto, shepherd’s pie or veggie bake as your next family meal?
3. Minimise chopping and cutting
Most of the time that goes into healthy meal preparation is not necessarily spent cooking but in preparing vegetables and other ingredients for cooking.
This process is known as pre-preparation.
Minimise pre-preparation time by investing in a good electric chopper, buying pre-cut vegetables, soup packs and stir fry mixes or by pre-preparing your vegetables in bulk ahead of time.
You may spend a little bit extra on things like pre-cut veggies but the investment in your families’ health and the time you save will be totally worth it.
As they say, “failing to prepare, is preparing to fail” and preparing some of your food in advance for the week is a sure way to save time during the week and ensure a healthy diet for you and your family.
From planning family dinners, to pre-cutting veggies, or even batch cooking and freezing meals in advance, every bit of preparation you embark on will save you time in the future.
Don’t forget to also stock up on healthy snacks such as veggie sticks, cut up fruit, hummus, whole-grain crackers and popcorn for when those munchies hit.
5. Get the kids involved
Inviting the kids to help with cooking and meal preparation can seem to be more work than benefit, especially when you’re having a busy week, but empowering your kids to make their own snacks and lunchboxes and take a turn or two to cook dinner, will teach them about good nutrition and pay off in the long run.
6. Simplify lunch boxes
Don’t get bogged down with complicated lunchbox ideas. Get a lunchbox with various compartments and fill each compartment with different fruits, veg, protein options and crackers.
This will save you the time of having to make sandwiches and salads and the variety of fruits and vegetables will keep your kids interested.
Variety is truly the spice of life and when it comes to kids, nothing keeps them interested in food like variety. But this doesn’t have to mean a lot of work or time on your behalf.
You can use the same basic ingredients in 3 or 4 different ways without kids feeling bored or noticing that they’re eating the same foods over and over.
Editor's note: If you're looking for variety and inspiration, consider a delivery service like UCOOK's plant-based Market Box for some exciting, fresh ingredients or visit Food24 for easy vegan meal ideas.
Do you and your family follow a plant-based diet? What are your favourite meal and snack options? Tell us in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don't miss a story!