One in four children is overweight or obese. It is also alarming how many children come in to my office with such little knowledge of even the most basic nutrition information. Why do we need to eat calcium? Where is calcium found? Why is it important to eat fruit and vegetables? Why can’t you eat chocolate and lollies every day? I have certainly been witnessing a gap in nutrition education.
Why is this happening?
Is it a lack of information provided at school? Could it be that parents are not educating their kids on food? One big aspect could be the increase in packaged, convenience foods and a reduction in the use of fresh produce and making foods from scratch – maybe this was where children used to learn? They played a much bigger role in food preparation and the collection of produce. They watched their parents prepare all of their meals from fresh ingredients.
However, the issue doesn’t necessarily stop at a lack of child nutrition education but also adults. Most people assume (whether they follow it or not) that healthy eating is basic information and that they have a sound understanding of it. Yet, I have had many clients later admit to being shocked by what they have learnt in one of our sessions. I find that people are most commonly surprised by the foods that aren’t recommended to eat regularly, appropriate portion sizes and what foods we should actually be eating and why. Just last week I had to educate a man in his forties on how to prepare different types of vegetables and why a variety of types and colours are optimal.
I have had parents who report that their children tell them of friends getting chocolates, lollies and biscuits everyday in their lunch box – not just one of these but often a mixture of all (though perhaps this is in the hope that they too will start getting these foods provided to them). Snacks like Tiny Teddies are starting to be seen as a healthy addition to a lunch box.
Regardless of who is responsible for this lack of knowledge, we need to take a step forward and start taking responsibility for educating children. Not only this, but we need to educate ourselves as well! How can children grow up healthy if we do not know the proper nutrition to provide them with or if we do not teach them the basics of healthy food preparation? Remember that a healthy weight alone does not always indicate good health. Many children are eating far more than they actually require, with some young children eating as much as their parents do.
What can you do?
Children learn so much from observation and what they are exposed to. Therefore using healthy cooking techniques, getting your children involved and providing them with healthy options is a big step in the right direction.
- Start a veggie patch – a great way to get children involved and to encourage them to eat more vegetables! It doesn’t need to be big.
- Take your children berry picking.
- Give them safe and easy tasks to help with the cooking, e.g. washing and tearing the lettuce. Kids love getting involved.
- Give your children an option of what they can snack on but keep all of the choices healthy. If they know there are no discretionary foods in the house, they will not eat/ask for them.
- Provide them with handouts and have chats to them about healthy eating.
Over the next few weeks I will be putting up some very basic education handouts for young children so keep an eye out! The first will be on calcium and calcium rich foods.
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This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you have questions about nutrition education for kids or other nutrition related issues, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.