Hardly a day goes by without some press coverage on the issue of children’s health and eating habits, usually with dramatic headlines such as:
‘1 in 5 UK kids overweight’
‘Additives cause behavioural problems in our young’
‘Meet the children who NEVER eat vegetables’
‘Packed lunches fail the nutrition test’
‘Parents may outlive unhealthy kids’
Articles like these do scare many parents and of course make them feel guilty. But we all know the theory and it sounds so easy! What is often missing is practical advice on how to improve the situation.
We would all agree that it matters what children eat. The food they eat doesn’t just affect their health and well-being now, but it prepares them for the future. Children who enjoy a healthy, varied diet are seen to have even moods, be more full of energy, feel brighter and more alert, have a much stronger immune system and better concentration at school.
But healthy eating doesn’t have to mean boring meals. It’s all about making nutritious food appealing, much more fun for kids and encourages a balanced diet.
WHAT IS A BALANCED DIET?
This term ‘balanced diet’ means different things to many people and can cause a great deal of confusion amongst parents. Some believe it means eating more fruit and vegetables, to others it means eating more ‘good’ food as opposed to ‘bad’, whilst some feel that it is a ‘nutritional status’ that is so difficult to achieve that they might as well not bother.
The most appropriate interpretation available for parents is to ensure their child is eating a varied diet.
By eating a variety of foods from as wide a choice as possible, across all the food groups, the child is likely to obtain a diet providing a wider range of vital nutrients.
How necessary is it to get the balance right on a daily basis? Parents should not get too anxious about whether their child eats chips on a particular school or family day out, so long as over a week they can see that the balance and variety issues are addressed.
CAN A BALANCED DIET BE ACHIEVED?
In today’s society, children are bombarded with processed and convenience foods, sweets and snacks, takeaways as well as fizzy drinks. As well as wanting to be the same as their friends they like to eat things that look and taste familiar.
This can make introducing dietary changes quite difficult and it is an area where a great number of parents meet resistance. However, just a few little changes in shopping and cooking can bring about significant health improvements to children in the long term. Very often there is no need to radically change the family diet. Just a little tweaking, which can be gradually introduced.
These days children appear to exercise less especially since the advent of TV and computer games, as well as being taken to schools in cars.
We need to look for ways of including activity into a child’s day and making it as much fun as possible.
Encouraging the whole family to be more active is a good way to start e.g. playing football in the park, going ten pin bowling or a family walk or cycle ride. For those children who are unwilling to go outside then activities such as swimming, dancing, gymnastics or basketball might be more appealing.
Exercise can give kids more energy and flexibility as well as more even moods and help with weight issues.
SHOULD PARENTS CONSIDER SUPPLEMENTS?
Food supplements are designed to ‘supplement’ a good varied diet to ensure an adequate intake of vital nutrients, NOT to replace foods. Parents may wonder why their kids might need them if they have a good diet. Unfortunately, even the best diet can no longer supply kids with everything they need.
SUPPLEMENTS ARE NECESSARY AT TIMES BECAUSE:
Many processed foods are stripped of vital nutrients
Intensive farming can mean that soil used to grow our food lacks a number of vital nutrients
Difficult to maintain a balanced diet if parents are working, if children are fussy eaters or have an erratic appetite.
Even ‘fresh’ food may be days or weeks old when purchased – nutrients are therefore lost
An optimum level of nutrients can be achieved.
There are now a great number of different supplements available on the market but it is absolutely essential that you get the best quality for maximum absorption and effectiveness.
As parents we all know how difficult it is when children choose to nibble on chocolate instead of eating an orange but one thing is clear, what children eat now has a big impact on their health and well-being.
9 tips to get your children eating healthily without them even realising............click here
1) Add more vegetables to favourite dishes – for example, add finely sliced mushrooms to Bolognese, finely chopped red pepper to tomato sauces and steamed leeks or onions to mashed potato
2) Mix together grated carrot and Red Leicester cheese and use to fill sandwiches and jacket potatoes – the colours blend so well they may not notice the carrot.
3) With burgers buy ones with highest meat content and grill or oven bake them rather than frying.
4) Add barley, beans or lentils to soups, stews and other meaty dishes – children won’t notice baked beans in a cottage pie or lentils in a stew.
5) Buy sugar-free squashes and fizzy drinks – if the kids complain, pour them into empty bottles of the standard variety when they’re not looking.
6) If children won’t eat wholemeal or granary bread, try high-fibre white bread for sandwiches and toast.
7) If you can’t get your kids to give up sugary cereals, mix them with lower sugar varieties such as a handful each of Frosties and Cornflakes, or Rice Krispies and Coco Pops
8) Use whole-wheat pasta in pasta bakes – when mixed with sauce it’s impossible to tell it’s not white
9) For children who are resistant to brown rice or wholemeal pasta, cook half of each and then mix together.
Starting healthy eating habits TODAY will give children a better future.
Nutritional Therapist BSc (Hons); Dip Raw (Nutrition), MBANT