Investing in our children’s future means investing in their diet from an early age. Good nutrition prior to adulthood leads to improved long-term health, yet the majority of South African children are consuming fizzy, fattening, fun and frivolous food at school.
As Nestlé’s Tuck-shop Truths study revealed earlier this year, the best selling snacks at school tuck-shops throughout the country are fizzy cold drinks (75%) and chips (75%).
“This not good news, especially when you consider that they spend a big portion of their day at school and that nutrient deficiencies can lead to health problems later in life,” says Naazneen Khan, Nutrition, Health and Wellness Manager at Nestlé South Africa.
Proper nutrition during childhood and adolescence is crucial for optimal growth and development, as well as for academic success and emotional wellbeing. Additionally, child and teen health issues such as eating disorders, obesity, dental cavities and iron-deficiency anaemia can be prevented through good nutrition.
“If good nutrition is needed for the development of cognitive, motor, and social skills, it stands to reason that under-nutrition, which can result in restricted development of these skills, can put children at risk of a range of problems during later life,” says Khan.
Good nutrition prior to adulthood has significant long-term health benefits. For example, a calcium-rich diet during childhood promotes optimal bone density, which is not only needed for teen growth spurts but also to reduce the risk of bone loss in later life. Likewise, a child who practices a diet with the ideal ratio of healthy fats significantly improves their future heart health.
“Encouraging your child to learn good eating habits is absolutely essential,” says Khan, “countless studies show that what you learn as a child is perpetuated throughout your life, and therefore you will help promote a longer and healthier life for your children if you instil good eating habits from the beginning.”
Nestlé’s Rainbow Nation Health Monitor study also shows a strong correlation with parents’ mindsets over their own eating habits and attitudes toward good nutrition and where they fall short in terms of the proper nutrition for their children. The study revealed that parents pass on their bad eating habits to their children.
“What parents look for in the foods they give their children are those that ensure that they grow up healthy and strong, that help with brain and mental development, that boost their immune systems and help them to concentrate at school,” says Khan. Some parents have more success than others in achieving these goals.
Here are some ways in which parents can instil good eating habits from a young age:
- Help your children learn how to make healthy food choices. Although we are born with a preference for foods high in sugar, fat and salt, repeated exposure to a wide variety of healthy foods, and good eating behaviours modelled by parents, will help to modify your child’s food preferences.
- Involve your children in shopping and food preparation. This not only provides an opportunity for you to teach them about nutrition, but increases the likelihood of them enjoying healthy food due to their involvement in the preparation thereof.
- Educate yourself to ensure that your children are receiving the recommended dietary amounts (RDA) of the nutrients and foodstuffs required for their age. Follow the packaging guidelines for RDA percentages and portion sizes and consult a nutritionist if you’re unsure of your child’s needs and how best to cater to them.
- It’s not too difficult to eat healthily. Tweaking daily foods just slightly can vastly improve the nutritional quality of the diet.
- Reduce fat intake by offering grilled, baked, and steamed food instead of deep fried food. Use low fat or fat-free dairy products, and serve skinless chicken and lean cuts of meat.
- Opt for wholegrain bread and cereals as they provide vitamins and fibre.
- Make snacks as nutritious as possible by having plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grain snacks and healthy beverages such as water, milk, and flavoured milk available and easily accessible so that your children become used to reaching for healthy snacks. However, don’t deprive them of the occasional treat.
“By ensuring proper nutrition for your children and educating them about healthy eating habits, you’re investing in their future, maintaining a healthy lifestyle for them, and putting them on autopilot on their way to lasting wellness,” concludes Khan.
Nestlé has a helpful tool for parents to test their nutrition, health and wellness knowledge. Take the Welnes IQ test at: www.welnesiq.org and embark on your personal journey to wellness. For more information and helpful tips visit the Nutrition, Health & Wellness tab on Nestlé’s website: http://www.nestle.co.za/nhw.