Modern parents are often busy with their jobs and without help at home, resulting in many young children being sent to nurseries or babysitters during the day.
In such a situation, it can be tough for parents to monitor what their children eat, if they are receiving proper nutrition and if they are practising good eating habits.
Young children and pre-schoolers are at a rapid phase of growth and development, and need to receive sufficient nutrition for optimal growth.
Some nurseries or babysitters serve easy-to-eat and convenient foods, which may lack certain nutrients, as their main priority is to get the child to eat.
You yourself may also have to often opt for takeaway food (the nutritional value of which you have no control over) for your family’s dinner after a busy day at the office.
And if your child is a picky eater, he may be missing out on some important nutrients needed for his growth.
Over time, these poor eating habits may cause an imbalanced intake of energy and nutrients that can affect your children’s development and possibly lead to malnutrition, which includes both overweight or underweight.
Therefore, parents need to make the time to nurture healthy eating habits in the family.
Start from young
It is important that the basic principles of healthy eating are inculcated in your chidren from a young age so that they will develop healthy habits that will last throughout their lives.
Here are five principles for healthy eating: Ensure that your family’s diet is balanced with all foods from the five food groups, as this will help your child’s body gets all the nutrients they need.
• Serve foods in appropriate and moderate amounts to avoid over- or under-consumption of each food.
• Provide a variety of food choices within each food group throughout the day’s meals, as different foods provide different nutrients (e.g. proteins can vary from milk at breakfast to fish at lunch and chicken at dinner).
• Serve three regular healthy main meals and provide one to two servings of healthy snacks between meals when necessary.
• Provide more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and ensure your child gets milk daily.
Here are also some tips to provide healthier eating options for the children (and family) whenever possible:
• Shop smart
Prepare a shopping list to save time and avoid buying unnecessary things.
If you know your child needs more of certain nutrients like iron, ensure you buy foods rich with the particular nutrient, e.g. meat for iron.
Compare the nutritional values of different packaged foods to know how much each product provides.
Opt for the ones higher in fibre, vitamins and minerals, but watch out for high fat, sodium and sugar content.
• Plan in advance
Allocate time at your schedule for cooking and plan out nutritious meals for the week ahead.
Prepare the ingredients in advance during the weekends when you have more time.
You can also pre-cook meals, freeze them in batches and reheat them at mealtimes.
• Use quick and easy recipes
Save time with one-pot meal recipes or all-in-one dishes, like pasta with diced meat and mix veggies, that contain all food groups in one dish.
Some supermarkets also have ready-to-cook foods with pre-packed ingredients, which can be incorporated into your meals to help save time.
• Opt for nutritious takeaway food
Choose more nutritious options when eating outside or ordering takeaway food.
Have steamed fish instead of fried chicken, more veggies and less rice, and milk or fresh juice instead of soft drinks.
Also request for less salt, sugar and fat in the preparation of dishes, if possible.
• Bring food from home
Prepare healthy lunchboxes with appropriate portions for your child to bring to the nursery/day-care centre.
Instruct the babysitter or nursery staff to ensure your child eats on time and finishes the food.
• Deal with picky eating
Be creative with colours, design and arrangement when preparing your child’s food if he or she is a picky eater.
For extreme picky eaters, consult a nutritionist or paediatrician to work out a tailored meal plan for your child to get the necessary nutrients for her or his growth and development.
By following these tips and ideas, your child will receive proper nutrition and develop good eating habits.
Give more focus to the nutritional needs of young children during this important rapid growing phase.
Balance, moderation and variety in their meals are key for their optimal growth and development.
Dr Tan Sue Yee is a nutritionist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email email@example.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.
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