Andrew J. Black
The health habits of early childhood become the good-or poor-health habits of adulthood. By their early teens, they know the rules. Some kids learn the wrong rules. Most kids shun vegetables, but they should learn to eat and enjoy them.
The health habits of early childhood become the good or poor health habits of adulthood. By their early teens, they know the rules. Some kids learn the wrong rules.
Most kids shun vegetables, but they should learn to eat and enjoy them. These nutrient-rich foods are key to health and academic and athletic performance. Sometimes parents don't serve them; they don't serve them correctly, or they don't see to it that kids eat them. The bottom line is, parents have to be in charge. Tell your children what they need to be healthy and what your rules are. Whether it's health, behaviour or long division, all children need specifics and explanations.
Good health starts before birth. Parents should avoid all alcohol and tobacco during pregnancy and yes, "just one" can make a difference. You can enhance your child's mental development before she's born by ensuring that even your pre-pregnancy diet contains ample amounts of the B vitamin folic acid (folacin). This is crucial for the baby's brain and proper spinal cord development. Cabbage family vegetables including broccoli and brussels sprouts, leafy greens, beans and peas, nutritional yeast, wheat germ and soy flour contain high doses of this vitamin.
Balance and Variety
Every day, serve foods providing complex carbohydrates, starches, proteins and fats in their most natural state: fruits and vegetables; whole grains (cereals, pastas, breads); nuts and seeds, legumes, eggs, cheese and cultured dairy products should cover all the categories.
Serve breakfast every day and require everyone over age one to participate. No leeway. Young brains need fuel in the morning to keep them attentive and sharp. Serve at least one fruit or real juice at breakfast; two servings of fruits or veggies at lunch and at least three at dinner. Major meals should begin with a fresh raw vegetable salad. Put a snack plate on the table whenever your children are hungry. Raw veggies, cheese cubes, slices of fruit and whole grain crackers are good anytime.
Researchers have found that kids will actually eat more fruits and vegetables when they have a choice of items. They also noticed that kids will eat more when less is served: put out 20 baby carrots, the kids will eat two; put out six, they'll eat them all. Don't bug them to eat more. Unless there's a psychological problem, kids don't let themselves go hungry. Cajoling them into overeating is like ordering them into obesity.
To foster good health and stave off obesity, you must teach that a treat is a treat, not the staff of life. Do not bargain with food. Don't reward, bribe, cajole, console or show your affection with sweets and don't ever buy anything a child pitches a fit for in the supermarket. Bargaining or giving in when your child knows it's against your rules can lead to the attachment of emotional values and a sense of power to food. Eating disorders can result.
If you don't buy soft drinks and cookies, young children aren't likely to consume them. Make the fast-food meal a rarity, not a right. Parents who take the easy way out at McDonald's are setting up a lifetime of bad eating habits.
To make sure your child's diet passes the test, follow these guidelines:
Carbohydrates and starches: Children need extra fuel for growing, so the bulk of their calories should come from complex carbohydrates and starches. This group includes whole grains, vegetables and fruits.
Proteins: Amino acids (the chief components of proteins) are the building blocks of our bodies. Children need at least 15 to 20 per cent of dietary calories in the form of plant proteins. The amino acids in whole grains, eggs and dairy products complement those in nuts, seeds and legumes.
Fats: Don't place a child under one on a low-fat diet: fats are required to fuel the rapid development of her body and brain. Between the ages of three and five, children should get as much as 30 per cent of their calories from fat. Select health-enhancing fats like those in seeds and nuts (which can be sprouted), vegetables like avocados and whole cultured milk, butter and cheese. Ground flax seeds are one the best sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids, one of the two required fats that the body cannot produce and the one most lacking in modern diets.
Vitamins and minerals: The ABCs of good nutrition are vitamins, vital compounds that perform dozens of functions affecting everything from a child's energy to vision and memory. Minerals such as iron and calcium are also crucial to a child's physical and mental growth. Deep-coloured vegetables and fruits provide an excellent supply of both. Aim for five servings of vegetables and fruit a day, with one being rich in vitamin C (greens, citrus, tomatoes) and one rich in vitamin A (sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes).
Supplement with a good multi-vitamin and remember that raw vegetables and fruits are ideal sources because they supply important digestive enzymes and nutrients that are destroyed in cooking.