Nutrition for healthy childhood

Food Rules for Healthy Childhood

Concerned about the growing obesity rate in young Irish children? Author Anna Burns shows you how to create good food habits for young kids, ensuring a healthy childhood, and future too. Have you ever noticed how your baby is much more interested in the contents of your plate rather than that of her own? Or how your toddler loves to potter around the house, phone in hand, handbag on arm, emulating what she sees you doing? Our kids learn more from example than from being told what to do. And the same applies to their eating habits. Our kids will eat what we eat. We need to teach them what good nutrition looks like by sitting down to eat with them and eating well.

In my book, The Food Nanny, I present you with the ten food rules that will prevent a frighteningly fat future for your kids. Most parents are aware of the growing trend towards obesity in Irish children. On top of the 300,000 overweight children in Ireland today there will be another 10,000 added by this time next year, unless we stop this trend right here and now. It is our job as parents to teach our kids how to eat and to introduce them to the language of nutrition, over time.  

Most parents I have met over my 17 years in the business of weight loss and nutrition are blissfully unaware of the fact that a child will say ‘no’ to anything new (that isn’t ice-cream of course) up to a dozen times, before they say ‘yes’. We need to introduce new foods regularly, repeatedly and in very small doses.

Sit down to eat

My most basic food rule, if I were to pick one, would be to sit down to eat. You will have seen ads on the television where the proud mum is standing at the counter-top while her kids eat dinner at the table. This, to me, is akin to feeding monkeys at the zoo! We need to sit down together if we hope to lead by example. I spent many years convincing my husband of the benefits of such an approach. For years (my four now range in age from six to 12 years) we sat through highchair mayhem, food fights, disinterest and crankiness (and that was just from the adults!).

If you can name it you can consider it

Another rule I have included is: if you can name it you can consider it. What I refer to here is the notion of whole foods. If you get into the habit of reading food labels you will stand a much better chance of feeding your kids well. When the product in front of you reads like a chemistry set, that is the time to place it carefully back on the shelf and move on to the next one.

If whole foods become your standard approach to food for your family then you choose the sweet, juicy mandarins on bargain today, not the orange juice; you choose potatoes (pre-washed and ready for the pot) not oven chips; you cook lamb (we call it brown meat for obvious reasons!), not sausages. Whole foods can be inexpensive and nutrient-dense. Processed foods can often include the cheap and the nasty of ingredients.

You can say ‘no’ to food

A much forgotten rule is that you can say ‘no’ to food. Your two-year-old recently learned the power of the word ‘no’. Remember that you are the boss. You too must get used to saying ‘no’ to untimely requests for food if you want your child to have a balanced nutrition. My youngest (the pet) will still try to get away with the “I’m full” approach to anything on the dinner plate that isn’t a sausage!

If I give in he will go straight for dessert – no complaints there – and within 20 minutes is wandering about the kitchen wailing “I’m hungry”. Offer the child a banana and you will get “I’m not that hungry.” It is my job to get him to eat some of everything on his dinner plate, not necessarily all of it, feed him his dessert and then say ‘no’ to any request thereafter. When bed-time snack approaches later on, he will then have an appetite for the banana with, perhaps, some yoghurt.  

You do not need to buy organic

Of my ten food rules one of my favourites is that you do not need to buy organic. We do not need to feed our children speciality foods. Yoghurt-coated rice cake anyone? Giving your toddler a sweetened treat such as this while in the supermarket trolley might seem harmless enough at the time, but they are not sitting at a table, it is a dose of extra calories and they are exorbitantly expensive, unnecessary additions to a healthy diet.

Instead, feed your kids a vast array of colourful fruit and vegetables that are cheap and widely available and set them up for a life of good nutrition and enjoyment in the pleasure to be had from good, plain food.

Anna Burns is the author of The Food Nanny: The 10 Food Rules to Prevent a Frighteningly Fat Future for Your Kids, (€12.99, Gill & Macmillan Books), on sale now.


maternity & infant

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