Kids: They are what you feed them!
Laura Thompson is a local Nutritional Therapist, Acupuncturist and creator of the Healthy Gut Plan, offering advice on a range of health issues
That old saying ‘you are what you eat’ is very true and even more important for children. What we feed our kids is so important for their development and is teaching them good health habits for the rest of their lives.
Children develop food preferences early in life so make sure you’re giving them plenty of variety. Don’t just assume that they want chicken nuggets and chips!
Likes and dislikes begin forming as babies; you might need to serve a new food several times before they accept it, but always offer a few bites, particularly with vegetables and fruits. They might not always eat them but keep putting them on the plate.
They might surprise you one day with their willingness to experiment.
Limit sugar as much as possible particularly in the first year of life; try not to get into that old “eat your dinner and I will give you something nice” routine. This is suggesting that the good food is punishment and the sweets are a reward.
Did you know that children today eat more sugar in one day than their grandparents had in a whole month? No wonder we have such a huge issue with obesity in our children.
Be careful with the “clear your plate” demand that we all grew up with; I still have nightmares of cold Brussel sprouts being served up until I finally forced myself to eat them. For years I hated sprouts but thankfully I now love them. But making children clear their plates doesn’t help kids listen to their own bodies when they feel full.
Food is often seen as a way of expressing our love, giving treats as a reward or when a child is upset or emotional. This is not a great idea and may teach that child to use food as way to cope, causing comfort eating. Offer praise and affection, not treats!
Occasional treats are fine but should not be the main focus; try to stay neutral when it comes to foods. One of the biggest issues that I have with kids’ diets is the amount of fizzy drinks they consume. These add extra calories and spoil appetites for proper nutrition. Also be very wary of so called ‘diet’ drinks; these are just as unhealthy. Encourage your kids to drink water, juice is fine when it is a 100%, but not too much of it.
Try to keep food at the dinner table; this avoids mindless eating. If they’re playing computer games or watching telly while eating, they will over eat. Limit their TV and screen time and encourage physical activity. This will reduce their body fat and encourage healthy habits.
Remember that kids do as you do, so make sure you are a good role model. Try having regular meal times and nutritious snacks. Let them see you exercising; take them for regular walks, bike rides and partake in sports. You don’t have to do anything too strenuous - just get active.
I treat a lot of children in my clinics, particularly overweight kids. The very sad fact is that these children are watching their parents and following their lifestyles.
It is never too late to change bad eating habits. As parents, we set the rules. Limit the treats and the portions sizes and get them moving. I have written a couple of children’s books, which help to encourage healthy habits in a gentle, non-judgemental way.
My first book, Why Can’t I Run?, tells the story of an overweight child with an overweight dog. The story tells of how the child has to help his dog lose weight and, as he’s taking his pet for walks and feeding him healthy food, he realises that he’s able to run more himself, because he’s been losing weight too.
Why Does My Tummy Hurt? is my second book and it tells of the good and bad bacteria in the gut, and the everyday battle that goes on inside our bodies. It teaches children that good food helps the good bacteria to win, while bad food leads to the bad bacteria taking over.
It is important not to cause distress to children if they are overweight. But encouraging them is vital. My books are available on Amazon and make a great stocking filler.
Finally, remember: they are what you feed them!