Believe it or not, your shopping list and meal selections will impact your child’s relationship with food. Children and healthy food choices can get messy. According to Zelda Ackerman, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), the primary school-going age is an ideal time for parents to help set our children up for a lifetime of healthy eating.
“What happens around food in both the home and school is important – not just to ensure optimal nutrition for growing bodies, but to educate our children about how important daily food choices are to our overall health and our abilities to perform well in life,” she says.
“For instance, balanced nutrition is vital for developing strong bones, teeth, and muscles, as well as supporting our immune system to prevent disease. However, it impacts too on our abilities to focus and learn in the classroom, and to achieve in sports and other physical activities.”
High energy, more reward
Physical growth demands energy and children’s energy needs are high, says registered dietitian and ADSA spokesperson Vanessa Clarke.
A balanced diet starts with breakfast that includes:
- high-fibre carbohydrates like wholewheat toast, oats and granola;
- protein like eggs, cheese, yoghurt; and
- good fats like avocado, nut butters, olive oil, as well as vitamins and minerals fruit and/or vegetables.
“This sets them off to school with a powered up brain and energy to spend. It’s typical for school-going children to need to eat four to five times a day. Their snacks are really important, so don’t skip or skimp on their lunchboxes.”
Food challenges at school
School tuck shops can be a source of food for your children, but parents need to be aware of what kinds of foods and drinks are on offer, says Ackerman.
Under-resourced Mzansi schools also face school food challenges with many parents concerned about the nutritional quality of the school’s nutrition programme.
“Sometimes, there are problems around the inadequate supply of food to address child hunger, but a persistent issue is the lack of fresh vegetables and fruit. Here, parents can help to motivate or get involved in the establishment of school food gardens to supplement school meals.
“Many nutritious vegetables such as spinach, beetroot, tomatoes, beans and butternuts are easily grown by beginner gardeners. Schools often have the physical space to develop food gardens on the campus, which can include the planting of fruit trees. There are also school food gardening programmes that schools can join to access information and gardening resources.”
5 tips for parents
Make it fun: Children often “eat with their eyes” so presenting visually appealing foods cut into fun shapes may entice them to try new foods
Get them involved: Collaborating to prepare the daily lunchbox can help with combating fears over foods and increase likeliness to try and eat healthier foods
Variety is the spice of life: Different foods provide different nutrients so offering an array of foods is key
Respect their tastes: Always offer them something you know they will eat in their lunchbox or plate even if it is the same fruit or veg every day. Then add a different fruit or vegetable in with it. Children are more likely to try different foods if it is paired with a food they already like.
Talk about food and health: Healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle should be an ongoing conversation in the home. “Chat to your child about healthy eating, the demands on their bodies and how they are met by food and particular nutrients found in food.”
Model healthy eating: When it comes to our children, what we do is more important than what we say, and while they may not always listen to what we say, they are always observing what we do. Being their role model for healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways you can help them become healthy eaters.