Involving children in meal preparation may help improve their nutrition levels

Approximately 13% of South Africa’s children under five years old are overweight. This was a worrying report from the Child Gauge 2019 report by UCT’s Children’s Institute.

It once again highlighted the importance of focusing on making sure that children are eating a balanced diet, however, thanks to poverty and other factors, it sometimes is not possible.

One in four children is undernourished and has stunted growth. The causes of these issues are complex, but what we feed our children is one of the most significant.

Commenting on the report in December last year, Chantell Witten, the senior lecturer in the Faculty of Health Sciences at North West University, said these nutrition indicators should be a cause for alarm as they were not improving but rather, getting worse.

“The stats are not encouraging; we need to pay urgent attention and we are calling on government and all multi-sectoral partners to look at how we can improve child nutrition because nutrition also affects education, it affects the ability to function, it affects future wage earnings.

“We need better foods and we need higher access for all children. The diet of children, especially in poor households, is starchy, high in fat and sugar,” said Witten.

Nestlé has launched its Nestlé for Healthier Kids to help support parents and caregivers on their journey to raise healthier kids.

We spoke to Anne-Marié De Beer, a registered dietitian and nutrition health and wellness manager, about what we can do to make sure that children get all the nutrients that they need. And from our conversation, it all lies with parents and guardians to set an example.

What are the tricks and tips that parents can use to get their children to be willing to eat more nutritious food?

Perhaps we should start with what not to do, first: never bribe your child to eat veggies or fruit or any other food for that matter. And never force your child to eat, or to finish a plate of food.

The best way of getting them to eat healthily is for you as a parent to set the example – we cannot expect our children to eat veggies if either of the parents won’t touch it. When you know your child has a favourite food, try to add a new or less liked veggie with the favourite one.

Get them involved in the preparation, this is an easy way to get buy-in and for them to taste their own creations. Make sure that they do not snack shortly before mealtimes – this is the best way to reduce the appetite for veggies in seconds. Lastly and very importantly, eat as a family together – make sure at least one meal a day is eaten at a table as a family.

Many of us are choosing to lead healthier lives – but how do we go about weaning the children in our lives off the sugar and unhealthy foods?

By setting the example. If the children see you eat fresh fruits, drinking lots of water and being active they will follow suit. Make sure you do not have too many of the unhealthy options available in the house.

But, at the same time ensure you always have some fresh fruit available. Fruits in season are more cost-effective than out of season fruits and veggies. Consider growing your own veggies and even fruits – think strawberries & gooseberries by example – these grow well in pots and you do not need big spaces for it.

Make sure you do not have too many of the unhealthy options available in the house. PICTURE: Unsplash

Would more time spent in the kitchen with children and showing them the “fun” side of healthier food, make it easier for them to take to a healthier diet and not crave unhealthy foods?

Preparing easy snacks and recipes together is a good way to lay a strong nutritional foundation in children. Getting children involved in the preparation of meals leads them to adopt healthier eating habits – in short, their diet quality is higher, with children more inclined to eat fruits and vegetables.

Do you believe that we will soon be able to curb malnutrition and all the problems it comes with, in children, soon?

Unfortunately, the triple burden of disease, over- under-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are multifactorial and will take a long time to eradicate. However, each of us can play a role in combatting these conditions.

By making sound nutrition choices from early on, setting a good example to our kids and making them part of the nutrition choices and cooking time will go a long way in setting them up for a healthy lifestyle as adults.