Healthy Eating and Lifestyle for children
Amongst the greatest concerns of health organizations worldwide today are the issues of healthy eating, weight and obesity in children. Many children are becoming overweight these days not because they are simply overfed but mostly because of a lack of general awareness and sometimes a nonchalant attitude towards children’s diets on the part of parents and/or guardians.
For reasons mostly economic related, financial or sometimes simply for convenience, many children are left to eat whatever they choose or whatever comes their way with little or no control/supervision. For many parents, the attitude is ‘they are only children’, ’at least we can afford it’, ’this is the quickest I can make’, ‘go to the nanny to give you whatever you want’ and what not!!
Unfortunately, it is from statements like these that this dangerous trend begins. Unknown to many, overweight children are more prone to health ailments like heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory issues, etc. Even where it does not cause health problems, it poses problems for parents too as something as simple as shopping for a child’s clothes can be such a big headache because you end up trying to match adult sizes to a child’s body!! In many cases, children are faced with psychological issues that result from bullying, teasing, inability to engage in extracurricular activities with other kids, not wanting to go to out and so on.
As such, there is the need on the part of parents especially, to pay extra attention to what their children eat. Gone are the days of ‘eat whatever you like’. The revamping process has to start from parents at home. You need to balance your child’s diet not just at once in a while, but ensuring you are involved in his/her meal planning for the day. Even where children are served meals at school, parents should ensure they advice school authorities where they feel the kids are being fed contrary to what is generally recommended.
Meals should be made by considering all food groups. Ensure your child gets a percentage of each nutrient (proteins, carbs, fats and oil, vitamins, minerals) and sufficient amount of water on a daily basis.Foods which contain too much fat or sugar should be minimized and controlled for children.
Fruits, vegetables, grains, and fibre are those that should be encouraged. These belong to the group that should be eaten as often as possible. Others like dairy products, lean meat, yoghurts, chicken, fish, nuts etc should be eaten moderately whereas biscuits, chocolates, ice creams, cakes and other high-fat/sugar foods should be eaten less frequently.
Parents however need to be role models for their kids when it comes to healthy eating habits. Children, especially at a tender age tend to like imitating their parents, and you will be surprised how much your regular ‘mango-eating’ for example,( not in excess though) encourages your child to want to have some. Parents should also learn not to fuss about weight loss/ dieting in the presence of their kids so as not to discourage them from eating. Teach them an attitude of knowing they are full and always serve portions they can finish.
Also, the quantity of junk foods/ snacks kept at home should be minimized. The more you stock your house with healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, cereals, e.t.c the more you are left with no choice but to eat healthy. You need to totally ‘cut down on the junk’ as well as processed and fast foods.
Another very important point to note is to avoid bribing kids with junk food, sweets or desserts. Some parents are in the habit of doing this to encourage children to finish their meals or simply as reward for other things. Eventually, they get used to it and may start to tell you they wouldn’t even eat without the ‘special rewards’ or in some cases, they even start making other or ‘sweeter’ demands.
In this part of the world, it is also uncommon to have family meals. This in many cases is as a result of work and sometimes school schedules. However, dinner is a time where all members of the family are expected to be home and is a good time to sit, have meals and reconnect. During such family meals, children are relaxed and are naturally encouraged to eat. As such, it provides a good opportunity to introduce new fruits and vegetables and try out healthy recipes. Naturally, even parents tend to show better examples and are more conscious of their eating habits where they sit to eat with children. For example parents who drink alcohol or smoke are less likely to do so in the presence of their kids, so these family meals should be encouraged as often as possible, if not daily at least twice a week or on weekends.
You can also encourage your kids by allowing them bring their friends over for meals once in a while. This encourages them to eat and in most cases they are so eager to show their friends mummy’s special culinary skills, so they will almost always eat whatever you serve.
This brings us to the issue of encouraging children to be a part of meal planning. Even from a young age, you can encourage your child to get involved by simply asking what the child wants for lunch or dinner. Sometimes, their answers can give you the best ideas and even where what they ask for is not available or you consider it a bit inappropriate, there may be alternatives. Where you are unable to meet such demands, you can explain to them in the simplest ways. That way you begin to make the child understand from an early age the benefits of having certain foods and not others.
Finally, Exercise! This is very key for our children and as much as it is not encouraged to be vigorous. Ensure that your child engages in one form of physical exercise or sporting activity, if possible daily. Most schools include physical education as part of their curriculum but these days children tend to do less physical exercises due to increased television watching, being on the computer, playing TV/electronic/digital games and so on! Rather than play a game of soccer, most children would rather play soccer on the screen. The TV game ‘Wii’ has tried to incorporate these two- ‘TV and physical sports’ but of course, not everyone can afford it or have access to it. Encourage your kids to join school sports clubs, buy them toys that encourage sports like basketball kits, badminton or tennis rackets, balls, etc. You should take them out for swimming, walks and so on.
Hopefully, with these few tips, our children’s health will be improved through healthier diets and eating habits. The key is for parents to be actively involved and make their children’s diets a top priority!Contribution by Aisha Larai Shafii-Ahmed (Abuja,Nigeria). Photo by: kids health