By Dr Sanjeeva Reddy,
Good nutrition is important for everybody, especially children. Childhood is a crucial period for physical growth and cognitive development. Optimal nutrition and regular physical activity are associated with better health, self-esteem, and academic achievements.
The ongoing pandemic has led to rapid rise in obesity rates in children due to poor eating habits and increased screen time with no or very little physical activity. Children should be made aware of the ill effects of obesity on their health and consciously guided to choose a healthy diet and lifestyle for themselves.
But with the rise in urbanization, changing lifestyles coupled with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there is a major shift in our children’s lifestyle and eating habits. Due to schools shut down, children have taken up online learning, and are now confined to their homes. This has led to frequent consumption of foods high in calories, salt, fats, free sugars, etc., and reduced intake of fruits and vegetables.
Unhealthy weight gain in children can have life-long consequences such as weak immunity, and an increased risk of developing chronic metabolic diseases, including hypertension, heart diseases, diabetes, and liver diseases, later in life.
Parents and guardians need to inculcate the right eating habits and regular physical activity in children and help them maintain healthy body weight.
Benefits of Good Nutrition
Eating healthy and nutritious food can help your child to
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Strengthen immunity thereby reducing the risk of infectious diseases
- Reduce the risk of developing iron-deficiency anaemia
- Maintain healthy teeth and avoid dental caries
- Have stronger bones
- Reduce the risk of developing chronic metabolic diseases later in adult life.
Help your child develop healthy eating habits
Include varieties of fruits and vegetables: Ensure your child is eating at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables in a day. Include lots of vegetables of different colours in their meals and give seasonal fruits as snacks. This will ensure your child’s optimum daily requirement of dietary fibre, vitamin and mineral intake.
Whole fruits instead of juice: Whole fruits are a good source of healthy fibre. Extracting juice may strip off its valuable dietary fibre content. But if your child does not enjoy eating whole fruits, you can blend the whole fruit into a smoothie without adding sugar. This will contain all the goodness of the whole fruits and also keep them full for a longer time.
Limit the consumption of processed foods: Pre-packaged snacks and processed foods such as chips, doughnuts, cakes, cookies, biscuits and wafers are high in sugars, calories and industrially produced trans-fats which are harmful to your child’s health.
Instead of fried foods offer them steamed or baked food. This way you can reduce their fat intake and prevent unhealthy weight gain.
Reduce their sugar consumption: Sugar intake increases the risk of tooth decay or dental caries as well as unhealthy weight gain and risk of heart diseases later in life. Limit consumption of all types of sweets and beverages with added sugars.
Make sure to give your child plenty of fluids, especially water. Avoid coffee, tea, sugary beverages and juices.
Proteins are must for growing kids to aid optimal muscle growth. They also help to keep the child fuller for a longer period of time. Good source of protein includes eggs, lean meat, pulses, peas, beans, nuts etc.
Choose whole grains such as whole-wheat chapattis, bread, millets, oats, brown rice etc over refined grains such as white rice, bread, etc.
Calcium is available in a wide variety of foods other than milk. Avoid adding sugar and commercial high sugar supplements to make the milk taste better. Offer alternative dairy items like curd, cheese, other vegetarian sources of calcium like nuts and seeds. Vegetarian sources of calcium is much better absorbed by the body compared to dairy.
Include iron-rich sources like dates, dark green leafy vegetables, fruits, vegetables, etc.
Allow them to help you in cooking: Children are more likely to eat what they prepare. Give them age-appropriate tasks like measuring ingredients, choosing veggies, stirring, etc.
Avoid eating outside: Outside food is high in salt, sugar, trans fats and have poor nutritional value. It is always a good idea to make home-made healthy and tasty food such as pizza with lots of vegetables, pastas, cakes, etc instead of ordering from outside.
Choose healthy fats: Include good fats such as seeds, nuts, olives, ghee, sea fish for improving immunity, cutting down risk of heart diseases and improving memory. Limit intake of butter, processed cheese, fried foods, etc.
Unhealthy weight gain in children is proven to cause physical, social, and emotional complications. Parents and guardians should take responsibility of their child’s lifestyle and eating habits. A well-balanced healthy diet coupled with daily exercising for at least 1 hour a day, good quality sleep at night, stress-free environment at home and limiting screen-time to online classes can help a child to reach their optimal physical and mental growth through the growing years.
(The author is Consultant – Paediatrics, PICU and Neonatology, Manipal Hospitals Whitefield, Bangalore. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult health experts and medical professionals before starting any therapy or medication. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)