By the time a child reaches the age of seven and goes to school, some eating problems associated with the early years of life, will hopefully have resolved themselves.
This is the period in a child’s life when he can understand that he needs to eat when he is hungry, and when he is also capable of assimilating what parents and other caregivers teach him about food. Consequently the early school years are an excellent period for teaching children good eating and dietary habits.
Unfortunately the years from seven to 10, are also often associated with poor eating habits and certain problems that may or may not be associated with dietary intake.
The following problem factors that have a negative effect on dietary intake in schoolchildren have been identified internationally and also in South Africa:
Young school-going children are particularly vulnerable to outside influences when it comes to a healthy diet. Teachers, playmates and other adults, may undermine all the positive aspects of a child’s diet education.
If you suspect that other children, or even teachers, are giving your child the wrong dietary advice, don’t hesitate to confront them and tell them not to fill your child’s head with harmful advice.
For example, other children may eat copious amounts of sweets and cold drinks and your child may view this type of diet as ideal.
Speak to your child about the problem, pointing out that the body needs all kinds of foods and nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and protein to grow healthy and strong, not just sweets and cold drinks.
Tackle the other children and if necessary also their parents. If this sounds like something you would never dream of doing, remember that poor eating habits may ruin your child’s food intake and health for the rest of her life.
Teaching your child good eating habits is something worth fighting for.
If you have a young school-going child, it is up to you to set a good example when it comes to eating habits and dietary intake. So make quite sure that you know what a balanced diet entails and that you and your family eat regular meals and don’t indulge in bad dietary habits.
If a young, impressionable child sees her parents skipping meals, or overeating, or drinking excessively, she will not believe you or her teachers when given dietary advice.
Fathers play a particularly important role in teaching child food likes and dislikes. There is nothing more counterproductive than a dad who openly refuses to eat foods such as fruit and vegetables, when you are trying to teach your child to eat a balanced diet.
Dads need to set a good example and encourage good eating habits. This may be difficult and may take a lot of self-control, but it is once again worth it if you are concerned about your child's nutrition education.
Older siblings, who may already be going through the diet fads of the teenage years, can also have a negative effect on young schoolchildren’s food intake. Talk to your teenagers and ask them not to influence their younger brothers and sisters when it comes to skipping meals and eating weird and wonderful food combinations.
c) The grandparents
And then there are the grandparents. These members of the family often equate love with overfeeding and totally indulging your children’s eating habits. Be very firm with your own parents when it comes to them interfering with your child’s dietary learning curve.
If necessary, print out the articles on ‘Healthy lunch box ideas’ and ‘Planning healthy snacks', which you can find on this website by clicking on ‘Eating throughout life’ at the top of this page and looking under ‘Kids’, and give the grandparents a copy so that they can select nutritious snacks for your children when they go to visit.
Young children are also exposed to all kinds of temptations at school when they visit the tuck-shop or stay in after-school care. If your child is being exposed to snacks and foods that have a low-nutrient density (few vitamins and minerals and low in fibre), at school or at the after-school care centre, it is up to you to do something about this state of affairs.
Check what the tuck-shop is selling and what your child is being fed after school, and if the food choices are poor, then do something about it. If possible, contact other concerned parents and form a united front when you tackle the school or after-school care centre.
It may be a good idea to involve a dietician to help you devise more nutritious alternatives, e.g. low-fat milk or Yogi-sip instead of cold drinks, fresh or dried fruit instead of biscuits, wholewheat rolls with tuna and salad instead of fatty pies. The effort will be worth it, because your child will never again be as receptive to learning how to eat a balanced diet than during the ages of 7 to 10.
Take up the responsibility of teaching your school-going child the rights and wrongs of dietary intake. It may not be easy, but you and your child will reap the benefits of your efforts in years to come. – (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc)
Any questions? Ask DietDoc