Turning over a new leaf

Aarti Jhurani
Filed on August 24, 2012
Turning over a new leaf

Now that the holidays are getting over and itís time for the kiddos to get back to school, itís also time to go back to basics: here are some simple guidelines for a healthier lifestyle for your child

Walking by a food court in the mall the other day, I couldn’t help but feel a little irritated when a tiny fellow, not a day over two, threw a hissy fit when his mother refused to let him have his favourite happy (but grossly unhealthy) meal. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love kids, and swoon over almost every little chubster I lay my eyes on, but it really disappoints me how parents these days let their kids have a free go at junk food. Blame busy lifestyles if you may, but what use is that fat package you earn by working in office all those extra hours, when your unsupervised child develops a multitude of health problems?

Turning over a new leaf (/assets/oldimages/wel-2408.jpg)The Problem

Tina Choueiri Chagoury, chief clinical officer and licensed dietician from www.lively.ae tells me, “Junk food has been linked to increased risks of obesity due to high calorie content and fat content of these foods. Due to the weight gain, and increased intake of processed carbohydrates, the number of children suffering from Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and hyperactivity has gone up. Earlier, it used to go unnoticed as parents would rarely test their kids for cholesterol, but now, it is recommended, as high cholesterol at an early age could be a sign of increased blood lipids later, especially if the child is overweight and/or if there is a family history of heart disease.”

This Is What You Can Do…

“Monitor your child’s weight, height and food intake. An ideal meal for a child should consist of proteins, healthy carbohydrates (like rice, pasta or couscous), with fresh and cooked veggies on the side, three fruits, and two dairy drinks a day. Also, 
try to incorporate fish twice a week,” advises Chagoury. If the problem is that your child refuses to touch anything remotely healthy, we’ve got ways around that too… show them who’s the mommy!

Turning over a new leaf (/assets/oldimages/wel1-2408.jpg)Set an example: First things first, get your eating habits in order. If you’re trying to force veggies down their throats, but snacking on junk food yourself, or eating at 
erratic times, your child is going to think that what you follow is normal. Don’t cook separate meals for kids and adults, find a middle ground, and eat what the kids are eating. 
It helps if you have a proper sit-down family dinner with no distractions, which is fun.

Don’t keep any scope for temptation: “Don’t have any unhealthy chips, candy, high butter chocolate bars around the house. Instead, keep home baked cakes, fruits and various dairy drinks to snack on,” says Chagoury.

Turning over a new leaf (/assets/oldimages/wel2-2408.jpg)Get the kids involved: Make them a part of the decision making at home, at least food-wise. Take them to the supermarket, and spend a good amount of time explaining what different kinds of food do to the body — how different fruits and veggies give us minerals, vitamins and essential nutrients that provide energy and help growth; and how processed foods can make them sick and make them miss their friends’ birthday parties. Give them time to check out the various food items, and ask questions. Not only that, get them involved in the cooking process at home. Get kid-friendly cutlery, and let them make their meals. For example, get different shaped moulds so they can have star or heart shaped veggie sandwiches, or carve out their veggies in funny shapes to make them more alluring. Plus, if kids make their meals, they will look forward to eating it.

Turning over a new leaf (/assets/oldimages/wel3-2408.jpg)Be creative: With your stories, and your recipes! If there are certain food items that your kids can’t stay in the same room with, then find ways to incorporate it in their favourite dishes. For example, if pizza is what they love, get a whole-wheat pizza base, make a sauce with all the veggies they wouldn’t eat otherwise, top it off with their favourite meat and bake! Also, if you can relate certain food items to their favourite cartoon/film characters (popeye-spinach, bugs bunny-carrots, or just make up an association), they’ll think twice before turning it down. Look for alternatives to the junk they like to eat. So if they love chomping on chips, replace them with baked nachos and give them a variety of home made dips to choose from.

Don’t force the child: Keep the food you’ve prepared on the dinner table, and let the child pick what he/she wants. Don’t stare or force the child to pick some items over the other, but be appreciative if he/she picks healthy food. Let the kids talk about what kind of foods they like, and what they don’t. “Share menu ideas with your child, and if he/she asks for a specific food, give it to him in tiny amounts, but explain that this is only okay in small amounts, while there are other things he can have larger portions of,” explains Chagoury. Let your child have an occasional treat once in a while, because if you keep forcing health food, and don’t indulge your child, he/she will do it secretly when at school or with friends.

If you still don’t seem to be making any headway, don’t fret; research proves that it takes a good 10-12 attempts before a child 
decides to give it a go. There are many websites online where you can pick fun recipes from, and there are a lot of combinations you can try, to see which one works for your kids.