Eating habits are cultivated during the formative years of childhood. It is important for your child to eat well now, to grow and establish good eating patterns for later.
WORDS CINDY LIM
Janelle Koh, four, has been inculcated with good healthy eating habits since young. She finishes her meals on time, she does not like to eat snacks like candy or chocolates and she eats her vegetables with gusto and relish!
“We made it a point to expose her to all types of healthy foods, especially green vegetables since she started weaning. We did not introduce her to candy and chocolates until she was three and even then, her intake of snacks and junk food was limited. We hope that such healthy eating habits instilled from young will carry over as she grows up and enable her to make good food choices on her own,” shares her mother Cynthia Lim, 36, a finance manager.
Indeed, it seems to be working!
“Children’s dietary habits are largely formed before the age of five. Therefore, early childhood is the ideal time to start teaching them about healthy eating habits. This will help to decrease the risk of obesity and obesity-related conditions such as sleep disorders and metabolic problems like hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in future,” explains Dr Grace Lim, consultant paediatrician, Thomson Paediatric Centre.
Enforcing Healthy Eating Habits
The eating habits children pick up when they are young will help define a healthy lifestyle when they are adults. Good eating habits involve consuming a well-balanced diet, a wide variety of whole and nutritious foods and cutting down on the amount of fat, salt and sugar your child eats.
One way to help your child develop healthy eating habits is to know what your job is and what your child’s job is when it comes to eating. “Your job is to offer nutritious food choices at meals and snack times. You decided the what, where, and when of eating. Your child’s job is to choose how much he will eat off the foods you serve. Your child decides how much or whether to eat,” says Dr Lim. When planning your child’s meals, take note of these tips to support healthy eating habits:
Choose healthier oils. Fat is essential in your child’s diet as it provides energy and helps absorb and store vitamins. However, too much fat, in particular, saturated and trans fat can lead to excessive weight gain and health problems. Note that fat restriction is not recommended below the age of two
Introduce whole grains. Whole grains such as wholemeal bread, brown rice and oats are more nutritious than refined grains such as white rice because they contain more vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fibre.
Get enough fruits and vegetables. They are bursting with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fibre. Offer a variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. Come up with creative ways of presentation such as cutting them up into different shapes and sizes. Keep trying and never give up.
Bone up on calcium. Serve up milk, cheese and yoghurt as they are important for strong and healthy bones and teeth.
Reduce salt. Limit the use of salt, sauces and salty processed food like luncheon meat, salted vegetables and chips to reduce the likelihood of high blood pressure in adulthood.
Limit sugar. Sugar provides extra calories to your child’s diet with little nutritional value. It can lead to excessive weight gain and tooth decay. Limit sugary food and drinks.
Child portions. Don’t insist that they clean the plate or take “one more bite” as children often learn to ignore their bodies’ signals of satiety and lead to overeating later on.
Good nutrition is extremely important for young children to support their health, growth and development. Healthy eating improves their concentration, learning and behaviour. It helps children maintain a normal weight and have plenty of energy for school and play.