Good health is often linked to academic performance. Thus it is every parent’s hope that their children will grow up bright and healthy. But keeping kids hale and hearty all the time can be a challenge for parents in today’s world, especially with environmental factors and food consumption habits that may cause children to fall sick easily.
Healthy eating can stabilize children’s energy, sharpen their minds, and even out their moods. While peer pressure and TV commercials for junk food can make getting kids to eat well seem impossible, there are steps parents can take to instill healthy eating habits without turning mealtimes into a battle zone. By encouraging healthy eating habits now, you can make a huge impact on your children’s lifelong relationship with food and give them the best opportunity to grow into healthy, confident adults.
Below are some tips to help you raise healthy children.
Cultivate good eating habits
Setting aside a regular timing for the family to gather round the dining table will help the children develop a habit for regular meals. Eating together can boost their appetites too, not to mention improve your family bonds. As far as possible, strive to have more home-cooked meals rather than dining out since food served commercially will most likely contain MSG and more salt, sugar and oil.
Read the interview with Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association representative, Kalpana Bhaskara, on the importance of helping children create healthy eating habits here.
Ensure that your children take breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for both children and adults as it gives one the energy boost after a long night without food. So even if you are pressed for time, you should not let your children skip breakfast as it will mean depriving them of the much-needed energy to kick start the morning and sustain them throughout a long day at school. For a child who does not take well to breakfast, you can start with a small portion and gradually increase it as time goes by. Breakfast should always include a source of protein, some healthy fats, carbohydrates (whole grains are best), and vitamins and minerals. Get ideas on the type of breakfast to prepare for your kids from other KiasuParents members here.
Prepare healthy foods
Eating healthy is very important for the children. We will not give food that has MSG, preservatives, artificial sweetener and caffeine. In addition, we will also go for less oil, sugar and salt when I prepare food for the children. Food that is high in sugar will increase the insulin and causes tooth decay. Try giving more vegetables and fruits at every meal to motivate them to eat more greens.
Give healthy snacks
Stock up on fruits, whole grains and healthy beverages as healthy snacks in the house for times when the munchies strike. Snacking on these is a much better alternative than allowing them to binge on sweets, chocolates, chips and soda.
Serve food in fun and creative ways
Food that appeals to kids visually will help to pique their appetites. That is why mums in Japan are so much into preparing Charabens (character bentos) for their young ones. Making food look good can range from simple decorations like a smiley face made from green peas atop a bed of rice, to a more complicated design like a collage or a cartoon character from a variety of food ingredients. Classes such as those offered by Health can be Fun and Creative Culinaire are great for parents keen to learn how to decorate food for kids creatively.
Avoid food that impairs mood
Certain foods and drinks can make children and teens more vulnerable to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. People who drank four or more cups of soda or sweetened fruit drinks a day—including diet versions—had a much higher risk for depression. Excessive amounts of caffeine from soda, energy drinks, or coffee drinks can trigger anxiety in kids and teens and may also aggravate feelings of depression when the caffeine wears off. A diet high in processed foods, such as fried food, sweet desserts, refined flour and cereals, and processed meats, can increase a child or teen’s risk for anxiety and depression.
Involve the children
Get the children involved in shopping for groceries, choosing what they want for their meals and lunchboxes and even in the cooking process. Besides teaching them the nutritional values of the different foods, the children will tend to eat more when they prepare the meals themselves.
Don’t give in to food marketing
Clever advertising and marketing commercials can make any food look good, even fast food or processed food that is laden with preservatives and additives. There is no way we can keep the children away from commercials. We can however use the commercials to educate them in differentiating the healthy and unhealthy food so that they can make better choices when they are older.
Don’t use food as rewards, bribes or punishments
Using food as rewards and bribes will only make them eat on occasions where they expect compensation. Stickers, or other small items your kids will like, can be used as incentives instead. Similarly, do not use as food as a punishment as it will make them shun those foods or worse, turn them off from eating altogether.
Be a good role model
Our children look up to us as role models in everything they do, including eating habits. We have to eat healthily before expecting our children to eat healthier.
Don’t forget supplements
A balanced diet not only includes fresh, healthy food, but also supplements such as immune booster, fish oil or probiotic to prevent children from falling sick easily.
Stay fit with an exercise routine
Working on an exercise routine after school or on weekends will help to build up the health and stamina of the children. Children who do not exercise tend to be tired and fall sick easily. It’s also a good bonding time with the children if we can be a role model and exercise with them.
Reduce gadget time
Children nowadays are so engrossed with electronic gadgets that they have become hindrances to their eating, sleeping and activities time. Though we will not be able to stop them from using the gadgets totally, we can make sure these distractions are not brought to the dinner table at meal times, or we can limit the amount of time they can spend on their gadgets each day.
Get enough beauty sleep
According to an article from Tan Tock Seng Hospital, it was mentioned that a person’s performance at work or in school can be negatively affected due to a diminished attention span and ability to focus. Shortage of sleep may also result in migraines and tension-type headaches, which cause attention difficulties and affect memory and academic performance. Pre-schoolers and children require even more sleep, with a recommended duration of 11-13 hours a day.
No matter how much food they eat or exercise they get, the essence of growing up healthily will be dependent on the amount of sleep they have. Getting enough sleep will enable the child to be more healthy, alert in class and do better academically.