Good nutrition isn't entirely down to what you do at home -- it would be fair to argue it actually starts at the supermarket. Smart shopping is the foundation for healthy meals, after all. If you don't have the right ingredients in your kitchen then you can't create nutritional dishes or healthy sandwiches for the kids' lunchboxes.
However, while we always set out on the trip to the supermarket with the best of healthy intentions, knowing what to buy and what not to buy can be a confusing task. And even more so when you're shopping for children.
But staying on track doesn't necessarily mean your shopping list has to be all kale, quinoa and gluten-free. In fact, you should be including breads and cereals! Here are five tips for healthier food shopping for little ones, even if you have them in tow!
1. Always Read The Labels
According to those in the know, a top tip is to head straight for the ingredients list.
"Read the nutrient panel and -- more importantly -- the ingredients," Accredited Practising Dietitian and founder of Nourishing Bubs, Olivia Bates said.
"Something with sugar in the first three ingredients is not a healthy choice, ever!" Bates said.
"One of the biggest issues when it comes to kids snacks and products is parents being fooled by the 'organic' tag. Parents assume because it's organic, it must be healthy. Not true."
If you're stumped then try to find healthier swaps. For example, swap processed spreadable peanut butter for an 100 per cent natural alternative or try a whole grain bread option.
2. Don't Assume That All Breads And Cereals Are Bad
While certain foodie fads would have us believe that bread is bad, it has been a staple in the diets of humankind since Biblical times. With fibre and other important vitamins and minerals, bread is a nutrient packed lunch staple -- you just need to choose the right kind.
"When it comes to breads and cereals, always opt for whole grain options where possible as they are much higher in fibre," Alex Parker and Anna Debenham, Accredited Practising Dietitians at The Biting Truth said.
"Whole grains contain B vitamins that will provide children with energy to play and learn. Being high in fibre, they are also more nutritious and satisfying than their refined counterparts."
When it comes to cereals, keep a close eye on the ingredients list. Parker and Debenham advised that checking the sugar content per 100 grams is important.
"Pay careful attention for sugar when shopping for your children," Parker said. "A good rule of thumb is to look for less than 15-grams of sugar per 100-grams and keep an eye out for the low-GI symbol on packs."
3. Use Fresh Fruit To Stave Off Hunger Pangs While Shopping
We all know from experience how dangerous shopping on an empty stomach is. An empty belly overrides the brain -- and the same applies to your kids.
"Encourage your child to choose their favourite fruit or vegetable to snack on throughout the shop," nutrition and health coach at hernourished.com, Krissy Ropih said.
"Some grocery stores provide free fruit for children at the door. If not, just ask at your local store or bring a choice from home."
If they're not hungry when you shop, there's (slightly) less chance of the little ones trying to persuade you to add some ice-cream to the cart!
4. Always Choose The Least Processed Foods
We all know that fresh is best. Opting for fresh products means more nutrients and less preservatives, additives and sugars. A good option is to choose real foods like fruits, vegetables, breads and nuts. If you're stuck, think of the types of food your grandmother would have bought.
"How many processing steps has it been through to get from the field to the supermarket?" holistic nutritionist and founder of Holistic health by Lisa Moane, Lisa Moane said.
If you're stuck for sandwich fillings for the kid's lunch boxes, reach for the foods without any product packaging at all: fresh fruits and vegetables. "Make sure to buy a rainbow of colours," comments Moane. "These reflect the vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient contents."
A list can keep you on track -- especially if you base it on a meal plan for the week. Focus your week's menus on wholesome, nutritious ingredients such as fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, lean meats and poultry, fresh fish, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
5. Avoid Buying Junk Food To Use As A Reward
Junk food is high in saturated fat, sugar and salt, and is a significant contributor to weight gain -- which can put children at higher risk of heart disease and type two diabetes.
Using junk food as a reward or treat can lead to long term unhealthy eating habits -- so hold back when you're in the supermarket and the little ones are pestering you for their favourite lollies or a bag of chips. At best, it's a short term solution for keeping them well-behaved during the weekly shop.
"It starts kids on a path to emotional eating," Tanya Funcan, co-founder of healthy snack, Funch.com.au said. "They'll love (junk foods) as they're loaded with sugar and salt that their taste buds will then crave. Parents can easily fall into the trap of offering these sorts of food as a treat, whether it be to distract them from pain or to reward them."