We are frequently seeing the weight and health of children in the newspaper headlines and scholarly reports, as more and more young people are classed as overweight or obese. Whether the increase is due to a poor diet or a lack of exercise, the figures can be shocking. As the number continues to rise year on year, the poor health of children is growing in correlation. Promoting a healthy relationship with food and a balanced and nutritious diet is just one of the ways to combat this ever-increasing health crisis while ensuring children maintain their health and make beneficial food choices.
Teach Them About Food
Giving your child an understanding of food can be hugely beneficial in encouraging a healthy diet. Discussing where certain foods are grown, how they are grown and what they look like before they end up on their plate allows them to appreciate the value of what they are eating. It can also be beneficial to educate them about different foods from around the world and, although they may or may not be part of their usual diet, children should be encouraged to be adventurous with their choices and try different foods when they are presented to them.
Food Shopping and Cooking
Understandably, allowing your child to help you with food shopping and cooking is not always possible but, when there is time, encouraging them to get involved can be hugely beneficial in promoting a healthy diet. Reading recipes together and creating new dishes can be an exciting activity, and is one that allows them to increase their knowledge of food while sharing the company of their family. Cooking a meal from scratch teaches them about flavours, tastes and how different foods require different methods of cooking. This understanding is a life skill that they will utilise daily throughout their adult lives and instil good habits later in their life. Their understanding of shopping and cooking will ensure they work towards a healthy diet.
Lunchboxes and Snacks
Fizzy drinks, confectionary, pastries and fried foods, amongst others, in excess, can be considered unhealthy, for children and adults alike. It is essential to limit the amount of these food types in a diet and, instead if it is a sugar craving that needs satisfying, offer the healthier alternative. Fruits, honey and dairy products all have a sugar content, and can often satisfy the strongest desires.
Another consideration is if and when the unhealthy foods are given to children. Often, when children are well behaved, parents will reward them with an indulgent treat. This can often create bad eating habits, as throughout childhood and into adolescence, children will relate an achievement or hard work with eating something that isn’t necessarily beneficial for them.
Avoid Overly Processed Foods
Chemically processed foods are typically much higher in sugar and unhealthy fats, and they have a much lower nutritional value. Often, they contain several artificial ingredients such as preservatives, colourants and flavour enhancers. These chemicals can become highly addictive, yet the food source provides much less energy than the wholefood equivalent. The frequency of how often processed foods are eaten should be limited. By promoting healthy foods and not providing processed alternatives, your child will be learning and be developing skills which will enable them to make healthier food choices later in life.
Be a Good Role Model
Role models can have a powerful impact on a child’s habits and perspectives. These develop at a very young age, and it can be very obvious to see the imitated behaviour. As a child’s outlook develops, how they conduct themselves is influenced and it is imperative to provide a positive role model. This influence is relevant in all aspects of a child’s life, including their dietary choices and knowledge. It is essential that parents, teachers, friends and family demonstrate to children the healthy food options available to them.
It is not only what children eat, but now much they eat. A recent survey conducted by the Infant and Toddler Forum revealed that out of 1,000 British parents, 79% of them were frequently offering meals and snacks which were much larger than is considered healthy or necessary. The survey also revealed that 73% of parents stated that they were concerned that their children do not eat enough. Read the full report here. When larger portions are offered, a child is encouraged to finish the food that is put in front of them, which overrides the self-regulation of feeling full. As a child develops and overeating continues, it will quickly be considered the norm to keep eating even though they experience the feeling of being full. This can continue into adult life and develop into a bad eating habit.
Here at our independent preschool, Devon, we pride ourselves in offering children a balanced and nutritious diet. We aim to promote positive eating habits which they can carry with them into later life, as well as teach children about food and their diets.