We all know that fast food is bad for us, but did you know that studies from the American Educational Research Association actually found that children who ate fast food three or more times a week performed lower on standardized tests in reading and math.
How much lower? Much lower, according to Kerri Tobin, a third-year graduate student in education at Vanderbilt University who is researching the potential link between fast food and academic performance. “On a 1-to-100 scale, it would mean about 17 points,” says Tobin. In other words, the difference between a 90 and a 73.
That is significant.
Another study published in 2007 in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a junk food diet at age 4 ½ was associated with a higher incidence of behavioral problems at age 7.
Not only does fast food lower academic performance, but studies have also shown that food additives increase hyperactivity. There are food additives in fast food, processed foods and pre-packaged “junk foods” as well.
So what is a busy parent to do? Between school, work, soccer practice, dance, scouts and more, how do we find time to prepare healthy home-cooked meals and lessen our dependency on pre-packaged, convenience and fast foods?
Here are my top five tips:
- Plan Ahead – Spend a couple of hours on a Sunday preparing and cooking your family’s meals for the week. You can freeze the dishes and simply take them straight from the freezer to the oven during the week for a fast home-cooked meal. Casseroles work particularly well for making and freezing ahead.
- Fill ‘er up – Keep a fruit bowl on the dining room table filled with apples, oranges, pears and bananas. Encourage your kids to grab from the fruit bowl, instead of pre-packaged junk food, when they want a snack.
- Slow Cooking – A crock pot is one of the single best solutions for the busy family. You can throw in a few ingredients in the morning and when you get home from work; voila, dinner is ready!
- Shop –n- Chop – Buy fresh fruits and vegetables, like celery, pineapple and cantaloupe, and chop them up when you get home and store them in clear food storage containers. This not only saves time, but saves money! It is so much cheaper to buy a whole fresh pineapple than to buy pre-packaged cut pineapple. Compare $3.00 for a whole pineapple to $7.99 for cut pineapple! This will also save you time throughout the week because it will be readily available to you instead of having to prepare it during snack or meal time.
- Pack a Cooler – If your child participates in sports or activities that require your family to be away from home during dinnertime then pack a cooler and bring it with you for a healthy snack option that will keep the kids away from the vending machine. You can make this a fun tradition by having a family picnic after the sporting event!
Bottom line: Try to avoid processed and fast foods as much as possible. The studies on processed foods are fairly new, but since we don’t know what is in these foods, the safest option is to give your kids as many fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and homemade foods as possible.
This image is courtesy of Suat Eman