South African children are suffering as a result of unhealthy eating habits – an issue that has come to the attention of a BBC Food celebrity chef.
Steven Walpole, who participated in the 2007 Good Food & Wine Show at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, believes that the time is ripe to address the eating patterns of children in this country.
The chef notes that the healthy eating message took too long to reach the public in his home country, where an estimated one in every 10 British children is now classified as obese.
South Africa can avoid falling into the same trap – if we do something about it right now. Here, more than 17% of children between the ages of one and nine living in urban areas are already overweight, but the problem is not as advanced as in Britain.
Parents have a pivotal role to play. Fortunately, this doesn't have to be a taxing exercise. Preparing meals for your kids can be "fun, easy and quick", the chef says. Here are his top tips:
1. Apply the 75% rule. Get your kids to eat healthy foods 75% of the time. For example, prepare only healthy, nutritious meals and snacks during the week, but give them a chance to have a bit of fun over the weekend. You simply won't be popular if you force your kids to eat carrot sticks and broccoli chunks when the rest of their buddies are eating pizza slices and cupcakes at birthday parties. "Sticking to healthy eating 100% of the time doesn't work," Steven says. "The kids just feel that they're being pressured."
2. Make dull foods fun. This chef is the master of making healthy, but boring, food fun for kids. For example, he uses breakfast cereal, with a dash of milk and honey, to make delicious cookies, tricking kids into eating something healthy. The good news is that you can do the same. With a little imagination, even a rice cake can be turned into a treat, he says.
3. Change their mindset. Many children flatly refuse to eat greens. If this is a problem for you, it's important to change the way your child thinks about veggies. Make him more aware of different tastes, focusing on the fact that vegetables can be pleasant to eat. First give the child a carrot, then a lemon, and then a carrot again, and help him to focus on the difference between the two. He'll soon realise that carrots can also be sweet and tasty.
4. Focus on practical results. Explaining why certain foods are healthy is important in getting your child to make the right food choices. But it's no good using words like "antioxidants", "vitamins" and "minerals" when you're teaching your child the basics. Instead, focus on practical results, saying things like, "If you eat your veggies, you'll feel much better" or "Eat this and you'll grow up to be healthy and strong and better at sports."
5. Sneak in the fruit and veggies. Finding it hard to get your kid to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day? A great way of achieving this goal is to work those greens into smoothies. The trick is to combine bland veggies with sweet fruits. One of Steven’s favourites is a broccoli-and-banana smoothie, which is made with yoghurt and skim milk.
6. Disguise it. The above-mentioned smoothie might not elicit the desired enthusiastic response if your kids knew what went in it. What's more, it could have an off-putting green colour. Steven's advice? "Just link it to Shrek, and the kids will love it. It's all about disguising stuff – don't tell them what the flavours are."
7. Go for one-for-all meals. You and your kids should eat the same meals. The key is just to give them smaller portions. This implies, however, that you should set a good example. You can't expect your kids not to be interested, and beg for a bite, when you're having a juicy burger while they're stuck with vegetable soup. Plus, if you eat the same nutritious foods as they do, you'll reap the same health rewards.
8. Steer clear of fortified foods. If the manufacturers had to add vitamins and minerals to a food, the food wasn't worth eating in the first place, Steven says. Rather get your kids to eat whole foods that inherently have a good vitamin and mineral content, e.g. fresh fruit and nuts instead of fruit breakfast bars.
9. Buy fresh and don't waste. Many parents complain that it's expensive to prepare healthy foods. The chef's advice is to buy everything fresh and make a point of not wasting anything. Fruits that are over-ripe can still be used in smoothies and vegetable peels can be used to make soup. All it takes is a bit of ingenuity. Steven also recommends buying a good chef's knife instead of always just opting for pre-cut veggies. You'll save money in the long run.
10. Teach your kids basic life skills. Steven is passionate about helping kids acquire basic skills, from mending their own clothes to recognising healthy eating patterns and learning how to cook. The reality is that these things aren't taught in schools anymore. Spend a little time on this – your kids might not be too enthusiastic now, but they'll be thankful in years to come.
- (Carine van Rooyen, May 2007)
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