13 October 2009

Teach your tot to eat healthily

Trace your eating habits back to their roots, and you'll probably note that your parents had a great influence. Now is the time to teach your kids the principles of good nutrition.

Trace your eating habits back to their roots, and you'll probably note that your parents had a great influence. Now is the time to teach your kids the principles of good nutrition.

National Nutrition Week (9 - 19 October) this year focuses attention on healthy eating for learners.

The mission of this week, when nutrition takes centre stage, is to highlight the urgent need to teach children the principles of healthy eating so that they can take control of their health from the earliest age (DoH, 2009).

More research has been done on children, their health and what they eat, than any other age group in South Africa. Unfortunately, the results of these studies aren't encouraging.

Stunting, obesity: a double burden
In the light of the latest measles epidemic that's sweeping the country, the finding that more than half of South Africa's children under the age of nine years are deficient in vitamin A, which helps to protect against infectious diseases, is cause for concern.

Iron is another nutrient that's been found to be lacking in the diets of our children, and this deficiency can have long-term consequences on growth, development and scholastic performance.

Ironically, the National Food Consumption Survey conducted in 2005 revealed that 10% of our children are overweight and 4% are obese, while 20% are stunted, which indicates lack of enough basic food to grow properly.

South Africa is, therefore, faced with a double burden of nutrition problems, namely both undernutrition and overnutrition. If we keep the so-called "Barker Hypothesis" in mind – which states that undernutrition in the womb and for the first two years of life predisposes children to many diseases of lifestyle, including obesity – then it becomes more understandable why we have the problem of both stunted and obese children (sometimes in the same family).

Physical inactivity
Another disturbing fact is that nearly 40% of our young people don't participate in any physical activity. In fact, 25% watch TV or play computer games for three hours or more every day.

Physical exercise is just as important as a balanced diet to ensure that a child grows and develops normally and doesn't gain weight.

The general recommendation is that children should be encouraged to take part in some form of activity (sport, active games, walking, cycling, swimming, skipping) for at least 30 minutes a day.

National Nutrition Week partners
This year a number of organisations, such as UNICEF, the 5-A-Day for Better Health Trust, the Consumer Education Project of Milk SA, the Association for Dietetics in SA (ADSA), the Heart & Stroke Foundation SA, Food & Trees for Africa, the Nutrition Society, Diabetes SA and the Consumer Goods Council, have joined hands to promote the message that we need to teach our children the basics of good nutrition, even against a background of economic scarcity.

Some of the above-mentioned partners have compiled a booklet that will be available in Pick n Pay supermarkets during Nutrition Week:

The basic message from ADSA is based on the SA Food-Based Dietary Guidelines:

  • Enjoy a variety of foods: From a nutritional point of view there are no good or bad foods. Children need regular meals and planned snacks, starting each day with breakfast
  • Drink lots of clean, safe water: Drink 6-8 glasses of liquid a day, most of this as water.
  • Make starchy foods the basis of most meals: Starchy foods like maize meal, bread, cereal, rice and potatoes should form the central part of each meal. Fortified maize meal and bread have extra vitamins and minerals added. They are good choices.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day: Vegetables and fruit contain many nutrients and should be eaten every day. Aim for five servings each day. Eat them with meals or snacks, raw or cooked.
  • Chicken, fish, milk, meat or eggs could be eaten daily: These foods provide protein and minerals, and are important for children and adolescents who are growing. Give your children milk, maas, cheese or yoghurt to build their bones and teeth.
  • Be active: Good health is linked to activity and nutrition. Active children build strong muscles and bones, and develop skills such as balance and coordination.

In addition, ADSA emphasises that "if it's about nutrition, ask your dietician". Always keep in mind that the dieticians of South Africa are there to advise you about healthy nutrition for the entire family. To find a dietician in your area, visit

2) 5-A-Day (vegetables and fruit)
The 5-A-Day Trust recommends the following when purchasing and serving vegetables and fruit:

  • Select a variety of colours and textures
  • Be creative
  • Frozen vegetables and 100% pure juice count towards 5-A-Day
  • Choose what's in season
  • Strive for five!

3) 3-A-Day (milk and dairy)
The Consumer Education Project of Milk SA emphasises:

  • Have three servings of dairy foods every day for good health and performance
  • Dairy is a nutrient-rich food source containing high-quality protein, vitamins A, B12 and B2, biotin, and essential minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and zinc
  • Dairy foods are vital for healthy bones, growth and strong muscles
  • Low-fat dairy products can help keep you slim
  • Children can benefit from healthy fats (omega-3 and omega-6) in dairy products

4) Pick n Pay
Pick n Pay has come up with innovative ideas for healthy meals for children to serve at breakfast, light meals or lunch boxes, main meals and as snacks, which will give you tips on how to make healthy eating a reality for your children.

The booklet also contains games and delicious recipes, so be on the lookout for this informative guide to healthy eating when you visit Pick n Pay.

In addition, dieticians will be leading tours for teachers and tuckshop coordinators at selected Pick n Pay Hypermarkets and Supermarkets.

Let's all make National Nutrition Week a great success and help our children to put these messages about healthy eating, drinking clean, safe water and doing physical activity into practice for the rest of their lives.

(Dr I.V. van Heerden, October 2009)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc

(DoH (2009). Press Release: National Nutrition Week 2009 Brings Healthy Eating to Learners. 7 October 2009, by e-mail; Labadarios D et al, (2008). Executive summary of the National Food Consumption Survey Fortification Baseline (NFCS-FB-I), SA, 2005. S Afr J Clin Nutr, Vol 21(3) Supplement:245-300.)


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