Next time you go to a place where there are a lot of children, look around and see how many of them look healthy. You may notice alarming numbers of overweight children, children carrying asthma puffers, teenagers with poor skin, but most daunting is the fact that a healthy, vibrant and vital child seems to be the exception, rather than the norm. Obesity, asthma, skin disorders and other childhood diseases are increasing, while good eating habits are decreasing. Genes, social pressures and the environment can take some of the blame, but the ultimate health of children is the parents’ responsibility.
- Australia weighs in as the second heaviest nation behind the US. 20% of our children are overweight and 10% are seriously obese.
- At least 50% of overweight school-aged children will carry this into adult life.
- Children’s health and their subsequent protection from disease in adulthood are influenced by their diet as a child.
- Eating behaviours are established early in life and these behaviours are maintained as age increases.
- Overweight children are at a greater risk of developing diseases such as asthma, diabetes, allergies and skin problems, not to mention the psychological problems of ridicule and taunting.
- 75% of Australian parents feel worried, guilty or frustrated that their child isn’t eating balanced meals.
- The World Health Organisation has declared that this increase in weight and the prevalence of obesity is now of epidemic proportions.
Off to a Good Start
- Set the right example and eat healthily yourself.
- Serve small, regular meals with nutritious snacks in between.
- Keep meal times regular and familiar.
- Keep family meal times enjoyable and stress-free. Refrain from making an issue of eating habits or discussing family conflict at the table.
- Don’t use food as bribes, such as, “If you don’t eat your spinach, you won’t get any ice-cream.” Children will tend to eat the spinach simply to get the reward, but end up disliking it immensely.
- Don’t fill your child up on fluids – such as milk, juice, water or cordial – just before a meal.
- Allow your children to help prepare the meal. They are more likely to eat something they have prepared.
- Occasionally let your children choose the menu. Give them three healthy options and let them choose.
- Use substitutes. If your child won’t eat vegetables, give them fruit. If they don’t drink milk, buy cheese and yoghurts. If they don’t like chewing meat, try mince, chicken or fish.
- Read labels. If sugar is a key ingredient, don’t buy it. Be aware of hidden fats and sugars in food.
- Try and try again. If your child rejects certain foods, keep offering them. They need to see it at least five times before it looks familiar.
- Don’t classify foods as good or bad. Have ‘everyday’ foods and ‘sometimes’ foods. Forbidding particular foods or giving them negative labels may set up cravings and feelings of guilt when these foods are eaten.
- Don’t insist that your child eat everything on the plate. Do encourage them to at least taste some of the food.
- If your child refuses to eat, allow them to leave the table, but don’t let them eat anything else until the next meal.