Wellness education: Everything begins at home

Priya Arjun
Filed on August 31, 2016

Parents need to reinforce the importance of healthy eating

Wellness education: Everything begins at home (KT8144830.PNG)
When food choices and lifestyle practices at home conflict with what schools are teaching about nutrition and well-being, it may hinder the efforts schools are putting in.

There are various reasons behind this:

Food as reward
To ensure kids do their homework or clean up their room after playtime, parents promise them cookie and pizza treats, or reward them with unhealthy junk food to encourage healthy eating behaviour. I have heard parents saying: "Eat your broccoli and you will get ice-cream for dessert."

But have we ever thought of the unhealthy connection the child could build with food over a period of time? If they receive a sweet treat every time, it creates a habit that may become difficult to break when they reach adulthood. They may start rewarding themselves with food for a hard day's work in the office and get addicted to treats. Food no doubt is a celebration, but it should not be the sole driver behind one's performance of duties and actions.

Food rewards for short-term benefits on a consistent basis can turn children into emotional binge eaters in the later phases of their lives. Children lose their natural ability to listen to their true hunger instincts and tend to eat when they're not hungry just to reward themselves.

Negative role models
Children observe and learn from their parents - be it food choices, personal hygiene, staying physically active or building good social and community relationships.  So it is important for parents to walk the talk.

When parents have an unhealthy relationship with food, chances are that it can rub onto children as well. This appears to be more appropriate when it comes to mothers and daughters. When mothers are judgemental about their own bodies and turn to false diet myths, daughters, especially in their teens and adolescents, may develop a poor perception of body image and low self-esteem. This may lead to eating disorders, depriving them of much-needed nutrition.


Increasing dependence on convenience foods

The lack of time to prepare balanced meals and the increasing availability of convenience foods also instils unhealthy eating habits.

Mindless snacking
Children get to eat snacks on a constant basis - whether it is in between meals, after school hours, when watching their favourite shows on TV, or at parties. But what is of concern is the choice and portions of snacks that are highly processed and denatured with no real food value at all. For many kids, especially in higher grades, fizzy drinks and chips have become standard convenient snacks after school hours before rushing ?out for tuition classes or extracurricular activities.

Snacking on food and drinks loaded with excess sugar, food additives and dyes may cause mood swings, outbursts, destructive behaviour, hyperactivity and short attention spans, besides leading to obesity, nutritional and hormonal imbalances.

Schools can equip parents with skills to handle issues related to wellness through awareness sessions. It can feature how to handle picky eaters in primary grades, host cooking workshops to learn the psychology of eating, and tackle nutritional and lifestyle issues during teen and adolescent phases. Active partnerships between parents and schools, through parental representation in school wellness committees, and providing parents with volunteering opportunities in school wellness events can help reinforce schools' messages on well-being and happiness.

Bridge the gap

- Use an alternative method as a reward system such as sleepovers, play dates, movie hangouts, or reading favourite books.

- As a parent, improve relationship of the child with food. This can encourage children to follow them. In the long run, this works out better than imposing ?dietary restrictions.

- Plan smart and adopt simple techniques to prepare quick and healthy balanced meals at home.

- Empower children to take up essential cooking skills and give them the right to choose as you guide them.

- Shift to mindful snacking. Look at snacking as a healthy part of diet to supplement nutrition.

Priya Arjun is a certified holistic health coach and a member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. 

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