How often do you sit with your child to notice how much they have eaten and for how long? Are you the type of parent that offers the food or snacks that a child craves for before consulting a doctor or nutritionist? Do you monitor sugary drinks and junk snacks that your child consumes daily?
According to Emmy Ntamanga, a Kigali-based nutrition consultant, poor eating habits include under- or over-eating, not having enough of the healthy foods needed each day, consuming too many types of food and drinks, which are low in fibre or high in fat, salt or sugar.
He says, these unhealthy eating habits can affect the nutrient intake, for energy, protein, carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals and fibre and fluid.
Ntamanga highlights that your child’s health care provider can assess your child’s weight, height and explain their BMI, and let you know if your child needs to lose or gain weight, or if any dietary changes need to be done.
He notes that children should be encouraged to eat slowly. Before serving them, ask them to wait at least 15 minutes to be sure they are hungry. Try to eat only in designated areas of your home, for example, the dining room or kitchen. Eating while watching TV might cause children to eat excess, as eat while their mind is focused on TV, but not the food they are eating.
“Too much consumption of sweetened drinks and sodas increases the rate of obesity in children. That is why they should be encouraged to drink more water,” Ntamanga states.
He says that children should take a variety of balanced meals, at home and school. When it comes to food labels, read them carefully and reduce foods with trans-fat. Children should also be served the suitable portion as specified on the label.
The nutrition consultant also says that some of the ways to reduce fat intake in children’s diet and stimulate a healthy weight include, serving low-fat or non-fat dairy products, poultry without skin, whole grain breads and cereals, lean cuts of meats and healthy snacks, like fruits and veggies.
“Children should eat five to six small meals per day, instead of feeding them with fried foods, give them healthy snacks like; popcorn as it is a nutritious whole grain, yoghurt because it is a good source of protein and calcium, nuts since they are high in healthy fats, with fibre and antioxidants, the dietary fat is important in supporting growth in children. Oats are also high in soluble fibre, which increases the number of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract, a piece of cheese, as it is made up of proteins and fat, and is a good source of calcium, fruit smoothie, hard boiled eggs because they provide high quality protein and several vitamins and minerals like vitamin B12, riboflavin, and selenium, banana oat cookies, among others),” he says.
Private Kamanzi, a dietician at Amazon Nutrition Cabinet, Gasabo, says children should be taught to practice washing hands before consuming any meal. Fruits or veggies must also be washed with clean water before consuming them.
He says, engage children in cooking healthy meals. It is a good way to talk to them about food and to make healthy foods more familiar.
Kamanzi adds that parents should act as examples, if children see you eating healthy food, they will be interested and they will follow your example. Parents are role models, and in order to shape healthy eating habits in children, they need to have healthy eating habits themselves. This can be made possible through adopting some new daily habits and eating tasty, nutrient-dense products.
He adds, keeping unhealthy foods out of the home, and instead bringing healthy foods in, is the first step to support better eating habits as children rarely ask for what they cannot see. It is also important to do away with buying junk food.
The nutritionist says when children are full, let them stop eating, do not encourage them to finish all the food on their plate, or applaud them for completely finishing all the food on their plate. It is not a crime to not finish food, leftovers can be finished later when they are hungry again. Making them eat when they are not hungry can lead to unhealthy overeating habits.
Physical activity is an important part of good health and helps children to maintain a healthy body weight. Encourage children to try new foods without forcing them. Allow children to decide how much to eat. You can also offer daily nutrition activities, lessons, and learning experiences to stimulate positive attitudes about good nutrition and health.