Whilst your overweight child might be deemed healthy and cute by family, the World Health Organisation statistics reveal that these chubby traits have a 70% chance of creating an overweight adult with associated heart disease, diabetic and cancer risks. As a caring parent this percentage is far too high to ignore in light of the fact that over 70,000 people die of heart related illness’ in South Africa annually.
Food is not a negotiation tool
As a key role model in the household it is important that you watch what associations you create in your children’s mind about food and to ask yourself whether they perceive food to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on its taste or its nutritional value.
Stop yourself from using food as a negotiation tool, for example, don’t allow your child to wash down their daily ‘dose’ of vegetables with a tub of ice-cream as a reward. So often the sweet treats that follow a meal are double the portion of the healthy food eaten as the parent is just too happy that their fussy child is eating at last.
Pentz-Kluyts advises parents to rather treat children with a special outing or a one-on-one fun activity for eating healthily and praise them for looking after themselves.
Setting the nutrition example
Your own eating habits will also influence your family’s relationship to food so make sure that you too eat three balanced meals a day and don’t skip meals because you’re too busy or on a diet. Try not to eat ‘on the run’, and cultivate a habit of sitting and eating meals at a table rather than in front of the television.
It is important to encourage your family to eat breakfast as it is the most essential meal of the day - your child’s body has been without sustenance since dinner and will have burned up many nutrients during the night for growth and development. Research has shown that ‘breakfast-eaters’ have a healthier weight and are able to concentrate better in class. A good option for breakfast is a bowl of breakfast cereal with chopped fresh fruit or honey added for sweetness. In cases where the breakfast cereal is pre-sweetened, there is no need to add additional sugar as it has already been added in a controlled amount.
Find the balance
Foods that provide a source of fibre (e.g. fruit, vegetables and whole grains), are also important to include in each meal as they help keep your child’s digestive system healthy and therefore aid in overall health.
You can also help sustain your child’s energy by combining foods – particularly a protein-rich food and a carbohydrate-rich food. Examples include; cereal with milk and fruit, egg on whole wheat toast, yoghurt with fresh fruit, a fruit smoothie, peanut butter or tuna sandwich on whole wheat bread, chicken wrap, macaroni and cheese and a baked potato with a mince filling.
Always try to include a handful of vegetables at lunch, dinner and snack-times as they bump up fibre, boost your child’s nutrient intake and add volume to a meal which helps your child feel fuller for longer.
Reading labels really helps
You will also be able to make wiser choices for your child’s long term health by getting into the habit of reading the food labels on products and finding out what the energy, sugar, fat, saturated fat and salt content is per serving before you place it in your trolley.
Some manufacturers make it easier for you to evaluate the food content by placing Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) icons on the front of their packaging. These icons will tell you the quantity of each key nutrient found in a single serving, as well as the amount it contributes to the recommended daily guideline for these nutrients.
Be particularly aware of processed foods, like many cold meats, and factory-made biscuits and pastries, as they are often high in unhealthy saturated and trans fats (look out for the word ‘hydrogenated’ too). By reading the labels on these products you will be able to choose the item that has the least percentage of these fats, or you may instead opt for heading home to spend a fun afternoon baking your own health biscuits for the cookie jar with your children.
Exercise is play
“The best example you can set for a child regarding maintaining a healthy weight is your own body, and what you feed it. So next time you see your scale reading rising ask your kids to help you exercise it off by chasing you around the garden in a game of tag or going for a long walk at your closest park”, says Pentz-Kluyts.
(Megan Pentz-Kluyts, February 2010)