Reasons why a healthy eating plan is important for children

We’re a nation and culture that values convenience and that often means opting for easy, take-out meals with very little nutritional value. Childhood obesity is on the rise and according to UNICEF, South Africa has the highest percentage of overweight children under the age of five. A child’s diet is essential for their mental and physical development, which is the reason why Medical insurance broker, Bloom, together with partner Momentum Health4Me, discuss the importance of nutrition for children. Discover the reasons why parents and caregivers need to pay special attention to what their children are eating.

Ensure your child’s good health and future with a nutritious diet

A balanced nutritious diet will impact a child’s healthy development for the future by providing the necessary vitamins and minerals their bodies and minds need for growth. Those children who do not receive adequate nutrition often suffer from physical health problems. Malnourished children, for instance, can suffer from weight loss, fatigue, or poor concentration. On the other hand, children who suffer from obesity can develop serious health complications later in life, including high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol. Thus, the choices that parents and primary caregivers make for their children and the eating patterns they encourage, will have a profound and long-lasting effect on a child’s future health and relationship with food.

5 Top tips to encourage children to eat healthily

Trying to get your children to eat a healthy diet can be very difficult for busy parents. However, before you order another takeaway or put away the salads, consider some of these proven tips when it comes to helping your child develop a healthy eating routine:

  1. Lead by example.  It’s no good demanding that your child eat their fruit and vegetables if you’re not doing the same thing too. Make sure your attitudes about healthy eating are addressed. Remember that children are hugely influenced by their environment so take note of what they’re consuming in the media. Try to ensure they’re exposed to experiences and situations that promote healthy eating.
  2. Offer choices, but don’t force it. “Your not leaving the table until you’ve finished all your peas,” is something many of us will remember from the dinner table. Forceful feeding or promises of dessert as a reward are not ideal when it comes to encouraging children to eat healthily. Rather offer them a choice between healthy options, like carrot sticks or apple slices. Even better, get them involved in mealtime prep.
  3. Introduce them to cooking. Food tastes so much better when you prepared it yourself and your child is likely to agree. Get them involved by having them peel some veggies or toss a salad. They could even learn how to set the timer on the oven. Get some ideas about cooking with toddlers or preschoolers and you could have a budding chef on your hands in no time.
  4. Go easy on the snacks. Children may announce they’re hungry before dinner time so be careful not to ruin their appetite with a huge snack. Instead of offering crisps or leftovers, try something healthy like vegetable sticks, a hardboiled egg, nuts, biltong or unsalted popcorn.
  5. Give them independence. Allow your child to make up their own plate at the dinner table. Experts insist that children are more likely to try food if they’re given the autonomy to make their own choices. Lay down some basic rules first, like including a piece of protein, a portion of carbohydrates and some vegetables.

A healthy eating plan for children

The basic rule to remember is to provide a well-balanced diet that includes a combination of all the main food groups, which are: grains, dairy, vegetables, fruit and protein. The portion size you serve will depend on the child’s age and the respective meal time. Here are the essential food groups that should be part of your child’s daily diet:

  • Grains. Choose whole grains, which are more nutritious over refined grains. Whole grains include oatmeal, brown rice and wholewheat pasta.
  • Vegetables. There are various categories are vegetables. For instance, some are considered starchy, like potatoes or butternut, while others are classed as leafy greens and includes produce like spinach. Try to include as many different types of vegetables as possible, which you can serve raw, grilled, juiced, mashed, roasted or steamed/boiled.
  • Dairy. Milk, cottage cheese, yoghurt, and cheeses form part of this group of food. This calcium-rich food is a good source of energy and protein. If you’re not keen on traditional dairy, there are many dairy-free alternatives you can provide your child, just ask a nutritionist or dietician.
  • Protein. The protein group are those foods comprised of red meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.
  • Fruit. Fresh fruit should always be part of a child’s diet but be advised that high concentrations of fruit juice usually contain quite a high sugar content.

Food to avoid, or cut back on

  • Refined carbohydrates. This includes pasta, pastries, pizza dough and most cereals. These types of carbs are considered empty ‘calories’ because they’ve been stripped of all the vital nutrients, fibre and minerals your child needs to stay active. Refined carbohydrates will likely cause a temporary sugar spike after the meal, leaving your child hungry again.
  • Sugar. You don’t have to cut out sugar altogether but it definitely needs to be monitored because too much sugar can affect a child’s temperament and rot their teeth, not to mention increasing their risk of developing serious health problems like obesity. Fizzy drinks, chocolates and sweets are obvious culprits but check food labels carefully to see where there might be hidden sugars.
  • Caffeine. Your child’s intake of caffeine from tea, coffee, sodas or energy drinks should be monitored very carefully because too much caffeine has been linked to anxiety and even depressive symptoms.
  • Trans fats. This is the least healthy type of fat and is found in fast food, deep-fried foods and baked goods. It offers little to no nutritional value and can increase your LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels.

Medical insurance for the whole family

Keep your family safe with a comprehensive medical insurance plan from Bloom. We offer the gold, silver and bronze Health4Me medical insurance cover from as little as R570 per main member per month. A medical insurance plan will provide you and your family with access to top-quality, private healthcare facilities and services, should you require it, without ever having to compromise on quality. Get cover today by contacting our offices and speaking to a trained consultant who can advise you about affordable health insurance plans to suit your budget and medical needs.

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