Parents are all too aware how important it is to establish good eating habits in their children, but can find it difficult to put into practice. Some kids skip breakfast and go on to snack on junk foods. Most eat insufficient dietary fibre and too much salt, sugar, additives and “bad” fats. Few children consume the recommended daily intake of five servings of fruit and vegetables and many don’t eat any fresh produce at all. The results of poor eating habits are seen in the rising tide of obesity, digestive, immune and learning or behavioural problems. Government surveys warn that young people are in far worse health than 20 years ago and despite our scientific advances, some will die before their parents.
Food designers and marketing experts are partly to blame as they hi-jack and distort our children’s sense of taste and smell. Children have become addicted to the glamour and street-cred of snacks. Crisps and sweets have become “forbidden fruit”, much more desirable than the real thing. What ‘s wrong with an ordinary apple?
In clinical practice, a common problem is the over-reliance on a few food groups such as wheat and dairy which prevent kids from eating a larger variety of foods. These two items are usually all-pervasive, overly processed and loaded with undesirables. Excess amounts of wheat and dairy products can worsen childhood complaints such as eczema, catarrh and constipation.
The solution is to provide a variety of nutritious, home-cooked meals and healthier snacks. It’s probably cheaper, too. When shopping, it’s a good policy to stay clear of high sugar juices and synthetic desserts. Welcome children to a world where food comes from farms not factories – and teach them how to cook. Fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, fish from sustainable and unpolluted sources, organic red meat and poultry, beans, pulses are all good options. Explain that the body is designed to drink water, not fizzy pop. The trick is for the whole family to eat well and to introduce changes gradually but consistently.
According to a report from University College London, there are 6 key rules which can be applied by despairing parents or carers to tackle the entrenched habits of “picky eaters”.
- All food dislikes are learned not inherited, so it is possible to “unlearn” them.
- Children may need exposure to a new food as much as ten times before they take to it – parents and schools often give up after a few attempts.
- It is important to introduce new tastes in very small amounts.
- Healthy foods should be introduced as early as possible to make them acceptable and to encourage kids to accept different tastes and textures.
- Adults should make food choices for their children except on special occasions because youngsters are so influenced by sensory appeal and packaging.
- Don’t have alternative options at home that your child will favour. They will be less fussy about the foods you offer. Give kids less choice, not more.
It helps if schools support parents. Schools can provide the information parents and children need about how to empower themselves to gain better health, concentration and quality of life.
©2011 Martina Watts MSc Nut Med, First Published Brighton Argus November 2005