It’s no surprise that parents might need some help understanding what it means to eat healthily. With the school term in full swing, many parents may be contemplating how best to support the physical and mental development of their children to help them maintain momentum in the year ahead.
“As a parent, you always ask yourself if you are doing a good job, or if you are a good enough parent,” says Vanessa Mathiba (37) from Vryburg in the North West.
“We want to make sure our children are safe and secure and eating right. I always try to make sure that my child is eating the right foods for his growth, I also try to balance with some of his favourites. My child is a very fussy eater so I make sure he has enough fruit, juice and water. I try to make sure that even at home his snack time has something healthy even with junk food.”
Marcee Reid (30) from Kimberley is the mother of a son who is just about to start preschool. She says, “My main thing is what is nutritional but still yummy for him? I generally eat quite healthily but I always struggle to find the balance between nutrition and ‘he’s just a kid.’ Another thing I’m also struggling with is portion control. How much of what do I give?”
Meeting those daily nutrition needs
Dr Wayne Jones, a paediatrician practising at Greenacres Hospital in Gqeberha, suggests that parents will see the most effective results by keeping it simple and consistent with basic healthy habits and staying emotionally connected with their kids.
“The importance of good nutrition cannot be overemphasised in maintaining adequate energy levels and ensuring that your child’s physical as well as mental development remains on track. Many children start the day with cereal, snacks or processed foods at lunch break and eat mostly carbohydrates at night,” says Jones.
Keeping it simple
Jones notes that the healthiest habits are simple enough to include in a busy schedule and to maintain throughout the year. These include:
- Using the plate model to help you visualise: Half the plate is taken up by fresh fruit and veg, one quarter is taken up by whole grains, and one quarter by lean protein, such as chicken or fish.
- Keeping it colourful on the plate: lots of colourful, natural foods mean a good mix of nutrients.
- Replacing sweetened spreads and jams with unsweetened nut butters, dried fruit with fresh fruit, and swapping fruit juices and flavoured waters with natural water.
- Monitoring milk intake: one or two cups per day are good for the health, but more than this can begin to impact appetite and water intake, affecting their nutrition and hydration.
- Sticking to low GI foods: especially for children who are not big eaters. Nuts, apples, raw carrot sticks and plain yoghurt are good examples of snacks that will provide energy throughout the day.
A balanced routine
“It is no secret that children thrive on routine and this is especially important when it comes to four things in particular – sleep, screen time, physical activity and family time. These aspects of a child’s life are all interrelated and it is important to get the balance right,” says Jones.
Dudu time is crucial
“Sleep is a fundamental building block for development. Winding down in a calm, screen-free environment is necessary for the rest that children need. Insufficient sleep and poor quality sleep can result in concentration and behavioural issues.
“Screen time can also impact physical activity levels. Children need to spend time playing outside where they are moving their bodies and interacting with their environment. It is necessary for the development of creative thought for them to spend some time being bored, as this is when they really activate their imaginations. This is yet another reason why setting daily limits on screen time is a priority.”
Jones points out that, on the other hand, it can often be the case that a child engages in too much physical activity, especially as they start to become more serious and competitive about sport.
“Putting healthy habits in place is not only beneficial to the health and development of your children now, but it also lays the foundation for their future and teaches them to make healthier and smarter choices as they grow older. Ultimately, having structure and lifestyle balance makes children feel secure and allows them to thrive, now and well into the future,” says Jones.
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