Azka Javeria, Hiba magazine team writer
Mothers, the fact that your child doesn’t want to eat breakfast, comes home tired, or is always hungry at school might lower your motherly morale. But don’t worry, we are here to help.
Let’s start by determining what nutrition a child needs during school hours and then determine what you can do to fulfill this need.
Nutritionists agree that including foods from all five food groups, or at least three of the five food groups, makes a healthy breakfast. The five food groups include grains, proteins, fruits, vegetables, and dairy. What combination of these food groups will give a child sufficient energy and satiety to make it to lunchtime without feeling hungry or drained?
Research has proved that eating a high-protein breakfast will help you feel satieted for longer because it takes time to digest. Also, children need a healthy amount of protein to help ensure healthy growth.
Another nutrient that provides satiety is fiber. So, a healthy breakfast could be a combination of the following:
milk + whole wheat bread/roti + eggs
honey + cream + whole wheat bread/roti + peanut butter
Chicken sandwich + milk
Satiety is once again a key goal during snack time because children have to endure further classes, plus traveling back home. Again, remember that proteins, fiber, and fats provide satiety. The challenge is to ensure the snack isn’t heavy enough to make the child sleepy.
Therefore, if you have given a protein rich breakfast, you can focus on other food groups now. Two high-fiber food groups that are usually neglected are fruits and vegetables, so serve two cups of each or two medium-sized whole fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, cucumbers, and carrots.as snacks, Fruits and vegetables are also essential in maintaining a healthy micronutrient status and the daily recommended quantity is four cups of fruits and vegetables.
Tidbit: More than half the children under five years of age are deficient in vitamin A, 40 per cent are deficient in both zinc and vitamin D, and nearly 62 per cent are anemic.
A fruit or vegetable salad is, hence, a suitable recommendation for snack time. You can add cheese, legumes, nuts, and beans to add protein to this mix. Or you can be creative and shuffle things between breakfast and lunch. So you can give your child a fruit for breakfast along with a smaller serving of sandwich or a sandwich at snack time with a smaller serving of fruit and vegetables.
Now that we know what we need to do, let’s look at a few things we should be avoiding for ourselves and our children.
The Don’ts of Child Nutrition
1. Processed Foods
I understand that commercially processed nuggets are delicious, but are they the best thing you can give to your child? No!
You don’t have to make them at home either. You can make chicken any other way at home and incorporate it into your child’s food, and it will be healthier than nuggets made at home or processed in a factory.
However, if such foods cannot be ruled out from your diets immediately, you can look for homemade food businesses to provide these for you while you transition to eliminate them from your food schedule.
Know that foods that require too much time to prepare and cannot be prepared daily, are not practical to be consumed daily either. This rule for processed foods applies to everything from cereals to flavored milk to different kinds of meat products.
2. Added Sugar
One reason why processed foods are highly discouraged is because they are usually high in sugar. Evidence suggests that diets high in added sugar promote obesity. Last year, Tribune reported that a colossal 40% of children in Pakistan are either overweight or obese, mainly due to a sedentary lifestyle, excessive screen time, and an unhealthy diet.
Moreover, according to studies, “The rise in the prevalence of childhood obesity is associated with the development of Type 2 Diabetes and cardiovascular disease at an early age.”
The main sources of added sugars in children’s diets are cereals, fruit juices/drinks, and bakery products. It is important to understand that things with added sugar won’t necessarily be too sweet. For example, some salty variations of bakery biscuits will still add a tremendous amount of sugar.
It is also important to highlight here that substituting added sugar at home with honey can be a healthier option only because of honey’s antioxidant status and hence, should be limited.
Toddlerhood and preschool years are specific times that children develop a taste for different foods. Limiting sugars here can be a favour for your child’s life.
3. Added fat
Bakery products and deep-fried items should be limited in order to restrict the amount of added fats, especially saturated fats that we consume. Limit consuming deep-fried items and bakery to twice a week if you currently consume it more frequently.
4. Distracted eating
Television, iPads, and other electronics are a simple ‘no’ at mealtimes. Ensure everyone disconnects from the virtual world and reconnects as a family to the real world and to their food. Studies acknowledge that screen time during meals results in previously unheard of eating disorders among children.
5. Force Feed
Allow your child to decide how much they want to eat. Force-feeding will only cause them to develop a negative association with food.
Also, remember that the Prophet (sa) said: ‘A human being fills no worse vessel than his stomach. It is sufficient for a human being to eat a few mouthfuls to keep his spine straight. But if he must (fill it), then one-third for food, one-third for drink, and one-third for air.’ (Ibn Majah)
6. Food as a Reward
It is important to know the purpose of everything we do in life. The purpose of food is to provide us with the energy to function on a day-to-day basis and not to make us happy. Offering food as a reward for good behavior encourages the ‘live to eat’ mentality.
As parents, we bear the responsibility of instilling good dietary habits in our children from a young age. This involves making informed choices about what they eat and how they eat. Furthermore, fostering positive eating habits can contribute significantly to a healthier relationship with food in the long run.