While the cultures of eating out and ordering home-delivered fast foods might never die off, there is, fortunately, the rising awareness of proper nutrition for growing kids and how it influences their immediate well-being and that of their future. Kids are known to be picky eaters. Some kids have problems trying out new foods while some insist on eating only certain types of food and some won’t eat any foods of a particular colour. While good nutrition is incredibly important for kids, maintaining it is often difficult for their parents. Proper nutrition is essential during childhood so that a child grows to obtain a healthy height and weight, can concentrate in school and does not encounter nutritional deficiencies and hence will be able to effectively fend off diseases.
Sounds like parents certainly have a lot on their plates, so to speak, when it comes to getting their kids to eat right. The good news is that you don’t need a degree in nutrition to raise healthy kids. The following are the golden rules which can help you encourage your kids to eat right and stay at top health.
Start them young
Naturally, parents want the very best for their children. Unfortunately, as parents have found out, they have to get used to the idea that their offspring will not always understand nor appreciate this. With regards to nutrition, many parents are also very well informed and know what will ensure the healthy growth of their child. Nevertheless, there will undoubtedly be some battles when transmitting this knowledge to their little ones.
Instead of wondering in despair what did the spinach ever do wrong, it would do you good to know that preferences are developed early in life, so offering a variety of food purees from the time a child is weaning off breast milk would help immensely. Likes and dislikes begin forming even when kids are babies. For older children though, all is not lost yet! While we would never imply that you force a child to eat something new, do get them to take a few bites. You may need to serve a new food on several different occasions and in repetition for a child to accept it.
Parents are natural role models. This is particularly true with regards to nutrition, where parents need to consciously ensure that their child abides to a few golden rules. Healthy eating habits need to be lived by and seen in action in order to be transmitted. Family meals, educated food choices and the involvement of children in the food preparation are all key factors in building a good foundation.
When faced with difficulties in trying to get your child to accept a food which is good for him or her, try putting yourself in the child’s shoes by remembering your own youth – did you always love broccoli or spinach when you were in kindergarten? Didn’t you always want to have dessert before the main course? Those that understand and accept that children may prefer certain foods to others are on the right track.
There should always be time for breakfast
Whether your kid is 5 or 15, mornings can get pretty uncertain and even crazy in some households; and breakfasts…? Well, they seem to be the easiest to fall behind on at times. However, do understand that starting the day with a complete, nutritious meal can and will affect a human body’s mental and physical performance for the whole day.
Children, especially when not properly supervised, tend to skip breakfast more than any other meal. Do keep in mind that for weight-consciousness and vanity reasons, skipping meals, including breakfasts, are more prevalent among teen girls, older children, and adolescents. If left uncorrected, kids who are used to skipping breakfast are more likely to form detrimental health habits later on in life, will be less likely to exercise, and more likely to follow fad diets or express concerns about body weight.
While it would seem like that skipping breakfast means eating fewer calories, which means weighing less, it certainly doesn’t work that way!
Breakfast eaters tend to consume significantly more fibre, calcium, and other micronutrients; more fruits, vegetables, and body-building milk. Young breakfast eaters also tend to have lesser inklings for unhealthy snacks and fizzy drinks. The best part is, breakfast eaters are approximately 30 percent less likely to be overweight or obese. So, strive to get your kids (and yourself!) to sit down to a hearty breakfast every morning, no matter what!
Growing children need energy throughout the day to help them concentrate on the many activities they partake of at home and in school. So, in addition to their main meals, kids often require small snacks between meals; however these snacks shouldn’t replace a proper meal nor provide “empty calories”!
Unfortunately, for too many kids, snacking means a lot of extra “empty calories” from sugar and fat. In addition to increasing the risks of childhood obesity, unhealthy snacks can put your kids at risk for cavities, especially if they are eating foods like fried foods or candy.
Here is one example how snacking procedures can easily go awry:
A fussy eater snubs a carefully prepared lunch, so Mummy decides to pack his favourite snacks for a family afternoon outing. The child munches on cookies and sweet cereal and drinks juice all afternoon and evening.“ Well, at least he’s eating something!” his mother convinces herself. Come dinner time, he feels his little tummy is still full (at least that’s what he insists!), and hence cannot possible have a proper dinner. In the end, Mummy, not wanting her little tyke to go to bed hungry, offers him something more ‘palatable’ (read: another snack) before tucking him to bed.
What we see in the above example is basically a ticket to unhealthy eating habits which will not be easy to reverse if left unchecked! Snacking, if carried out with good purpose, should keep a child’s energy levels up, maintain good metabolic rates and fill in the gaps between mealtimes with essential nutrients a growing body needs. There’s a big difference between mindless munching and strategic snacking. Providing children with nutritious snacks helps to reinforce good eating habits.
So, get serious about providing your kid with healthy snacks. Here are a few good picks:
- Mini fruit muffins
- Fruit – cut up and served in colourful combinations
- Sandwiches – Spread with peanut butter, kaya, mashed banana or jam, cut into triangles or rolled up like a scroll
- Veggie sticks – slice thinly and serve with cottage cheese or hummus or a low-fat dip
- Cubes of cheese
- Ice blocks made with diluted 100% fruit juice
Pay attention to serving sizes
Muffins the size of small cakes and pastas served in deeper than deep bowls…. While good food is important for growing bodies, too much of anything, no matter how nutritious it is, can backfire in many ways. Any kind of food may cause health problems if regularly consumed in large amounts. Indeed, the price we pay for such overabundance is high. Kids and adults who consistently overeat are at risk for developing weight problems and the medical problems associated with being overweight, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, bone and joint problems, breathing and sleeping problems, and even depression. As overeating is not an easy habit to break, later on in life they will be at greater risks for heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.
One easy way to short-circuit this growing trend? Buy smaller plates, bowls and cups. Remember too, the role you play is showing kids how to size up portions. If you eat two heaping helpings of food each night, that’s probably what your kids will learn too.
Many parents, especially those who are concerned about their kids’ nutritional intake, tend to watch what their kids eat, but quite forget about what their kids drink! As it is with all things, a parent’s example is a critical determinant as to whether a child will drown him- or herself in unhealthy fizzy drinks. Many of the drinks offered to children these days contain more calories than they should and hide nasties such as artificial colours, chemicals, preservatives and so on. Sweetened beverages constituted more than half (51 percent) of all beverages consumed by children aged between 4 to 15! This also made them less prone to select whole fruit as snacks or desserts.
One strategy to get your kids accustomed to drinking water to quench their thirst is to keep cold, filtered water in a pitcher in the fridge. Also, encourage the intake of milk daily. Growing boys and girls create at least 40 percent of their adult bone mass during adolescence, and much of the calcium from food supplies comes from dairy products. Children who do not receive adequate amounts of calcium are at an increased risk of bone disease later in life.
Serve more whole foods
Here’s something worth keeping in mind when selecting foodstuff for your family while shopping: The fewer the ingredients in it, the healthier it is. In other words, a pack of juice which contains 100% fruit juice (which will probably have a shorter shelf life), is a much better choice than a pack of “super” juice with a mile-long ingredient list other than fruit juice, (where much of which would be synthetic substances disguised as nutrients).
Give more priority to foods that are the least processed. For example, serve more rice instead of noodles and more milk instead of cheese, etc. Whole foods such as fruits, vegetable, whole grains and milk contain a bounty of essential nutrients like vitamins, antioxidants, good fats and fibre, all of which are dramatically reduced during intense food processing procedures.
Incidentally, when it comes to the importance of whole grains, many tend to think that its mainly to do with fibre, but there’s so much more than that. Whole grains are rich in a myriad of vitamins, minerals and phytochemical compounds that, alone or in combination, are likely to have significant health benefits that are beyond those of dietary fibre.
Here are six simple ways to get more whole foods into your family’s diet:
- Whenever possible, choose products made with 100% whole grains (check the label or ingredients list)
- Replace half the white flour called for in your baking recipes with whole-wheat flour.
- Serve plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits. Try to include them in almost every meal and also serve them imaginatively as snacks.
- Eat fewer convenience and processed foods. They’re often loaded with added fat, sugar, salt, and additives.
- Pay better attention to the beverages you offer. Go for non-sugary options such as water, mineral water, green tea (iced or hot), fresh fruit juice, and skim or soy milk.
Notice how there were fewer (if any at all) bad eating habits during the times of our forefathers? Notice too that today, family members tend to eat (or be fed) according to the times that are most convenient and are less inclined to sit down at the dining table for a family meal. Given those facts, it’s hardly surprising that children in families with a more structured mealtime exhibit healthier eating habits.
Set the dining table (Seriously, do!)
While the notion of a daily 6pm or 7pm family dinnertime is a quaint one and hardly fits within a society where both Mom and Dad work or where our kids have such highly scheduled social lives that the delineation between “parent” and “chauffeur” is sometimes difficult to parse, there are still ways to come together for a meal, one step at a time. Yes, not everyone can bring the family together like The Waltons or the Brady Bunch, but surely we can make some positive steps in that direction. Start by setting up one dinner night a week and strive to enforce it at all costs — no social plans, no school projects, no extra work brought home from the office.
Tip: Prepare extra special meals on those nights, one that you know the kids will enjoy. Also, keep conversation enjoyable and lively. That will give them something to look forward to and eventually, you can proceed to have more frequent family meals together.
Another smart move: Get your kids involved in cooking. Make a game of trying to pack the most healthful ingredients into your meals.
Ditch the “clean up your plate” attitude
Though deemed admirable throughout the ages, this is one rule which can unwittingly set a kid well on his or her way down the road to overeating, which in turn could lead to obesity and other health problems later on in life. This is especially so if parents themselves are not careful about the kinds of foods they put onto their kids’ plates. Many parents adhere to this rule thinking that this is the best for their child. While it may be true for some (who have carefully considered the type of food and portions according to the child’s needs), this rule in many cases, does not help kids to be in tune with their own bodies and stop when they’re feeling full. Then, throw in the typical promise of dessert for those who polish what’s on their plate, and it’s easy to see why kids can be unwittingly overeating on a regular basis.
Let your child stop eating when they’ve had enough. When kids notice and respond to feelings of fullness, they’re less likely to overeat.