Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association representative, Kalpana Bhaskara, answers your questions about the importance of helping children create healthy eating habits.
1. What is the effect on children on not eating breakfast?
There is substantial evidence to show that skipping breakfast adversely affects children's performance in problem-solving tasks and also leads to decreased concentration in the classroom. This affects a child's academic performance and also indirectly affects the morale. If a child skips breakfast, hunger sets in long before it is time for lunch and children are forced to snack on foods that are high in fat and sugar. Not eating breakfast is often linked to overweight and obesity, especially in children and teens. They are also unlikely to make up their daily requirement for some vitamins and minerals that a simple breakfast would have provided.
2. What is the effect on children on not eating enough fruits and vegetables?
Fruits and vegetables contribute a host of beneficial nutrients and other food components, such as phytochemicals and fiber, to a child's diet. No dietary supplement can substitute for all the compounds found in fruits and vegetables, nor can they mimic the potential nutrient interactions found in those foods that may contribute to their healthful effects. Not including these foods as part of a well-balanced diet can result in significant health consequences.
One of the initial adverse effects of avoiding fruits and vegetables might be a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Fruits and vegetables contain a type of indigestible carbohydrate called fiber, which doesn't contribute any calories to the diet but can provide a feeling of fullness and the insoluble fibre increases the bulk of waste products in the large intestine, speeds up the waste as it passes through the system and helps avoid constipation. Lack of fiber in your diet can have the opposite effect.
In addition, fruits and vegetables are rich in phytochemicals, plant-based substances that not only contribute color to these foods but also may reduce the risk factor for chronic diseases. Fruits and vegetables have a relatively low energy density (high nutrient density), meaning they offer few calories per unit of weight. Excluding fruits and vegetables in favor of foods with a high energy density, such as soft drinks, candies or fatty meat, can lead to overweight/obesity.
3. Why is it important to cultivate the right healthy eating habits from young?
It is important to establish healthy eating habits from young because eating habits and dietary preferences form early. In fact, a recent study found that children as young as two years old hold food preferences based on their parents' dietary choices. For this reason, parents (and other primary care givers) have a responsibility to serve as healthy eating role models and prioritize the development of healthy eating habits. Modelling good behaviour and involving children in shopping, meal planning and preparation go a long way towards this goal. Children are ready and eager learners, and this allows child care providers the opportunity to cultivate healthy eating habits from young. Building good habits in the early years can also provide the protection of a healthy diet throughout their lives.
4. What role can parents play in helping to cultivate the right healthy eating habits amongst children?
Parents play a big part in shaping children's habits on eating. The childhood impulse to imitate is strong, so it's important for parents to act as good role models. When parents eat foods that are lower in fat and added sugars and high in fibre, children learn to like these foods as well. Children develop a natural preference for the foods they enjoy the most, so the challenge for parents is to make healthy choices appealing. Parents are the first gatekeepers to their child's eating habits. Parents should ensure that regular meal times made enjoyable and also involve kids in meal planning, preparation and serving. This creates a positive influence which will have a lifelong impact. However, you can ensure that your children's diet is as nutritious and wholesome as possible, even while allowing for some of their favourite treats.
By encouraging healthy eating habits in their earlier years parents will make a huge impact on their children's lifelong relationship with food and give them the best opportunity to grow into healthy, confident adults.
5. What role can the school play in helping to cultivate the right healthy eating habits amongst children?
A child spends approximately around 6-7 hours at school and so the school environment plays an important role in nurturing good eating habits. Most students consume at least one snack or one meal in their school canteen on most days of the week over a period of several years. Providing healthy snacks and meals at school canteens helps to inculcate healthy eating habits. Schools can also introduce healthy eating modules as a part of the curriculum. In collaboration with governmental, non-governmental bodies and parent support groups, schools can organize activities to support and encourage healthy eating at schools.
6. What do you think is unique about Philips' SimplyHealthy@Schools program to help effect a positive change in children's eating habits?
Philips' SimplyHealthy@Schools program involves volunteers who promote good health/eating habits beyond their home, emphasising that other adults can also play a positive role in the child's health. This programme is unique in the sense that it involves all the stakeholders who are instrumental in moulding a child's eating behaviour: namely Parents, Teachers, Volunteers and the Children themselves. The programme is activity based which involves the children and thus is impactful. It is befitting to label this program as "experiential learning towards healthier eating".
7. What recommendations or tips do you have for parents to encourage their children to develop right healthy eating habits?
As parents …
- Establish a daily meal time schedule for the family
Set consistent times for meals and snacks
- Do not allow eating between scheduled meals and snacks
- Limit liquid intake between meals and snacks to water only
- Offer new foods often and repeatedly
(a child may need 10-20 exposures before they will eat a new food)
- Serve food in age-appropriate portion sizes
- Serve meals and snacks at the table when the child is seated
- Model good eating behavior for your child by eating a variety
of types and textures of foods
- Make mealtimes POSTIVE!!! This is VERY important
Avoid bribing, coaxing or yelling during meals.
- Encourage child to assist in menu planning, marketing, preparing and serving of food.