Raising a healthy generation- How well are we doing?

I had an amazing time this past Saturday with over 20 kids speaking on nutrition. Why did I decide to do the class? Well, I have two school-going daughters aged 10 and 7. I have been getting a lot of feedback regarding the juices and snacks I pack for them to take to school. The others kids love them which means they have to share whatever it is that I have packed.  I decided to investigate what kind of snacks these particular kids take to school and to cut the story short, I decided to sell the idea of a nutrition class to all parents in my circle. The idea was warmly received.

We are in an era where school-aged children are growing at a tremendous rate hence they need healthy, nutritious choices to keep up their energy and optimal growth.

Many parents complain that meal times are fighting times. The kids just don’t want to eat vegetables or greens.  One of the best ways to teach healthy nutrition to a school- aged child is simply to get the child involved. Making the child feel they are part of the process and helping them make good choices can limit the natural fights or arguments that can spring up during mealtimes.

Using a healthy food pyramid (lean protein, grains, dairy, vegetables, fruits, fats & oils and water), get children to help you select menus for the week, go shopping with them and let them assist in meal preparation. E.g kids can assist in cleaning the vegetables, cracking eggs etc.

Apart from eating a healthy balance diet, Children also need physical activity every day. Activity and nutrition must go together in order to ensure your child’s nutritional health. If a child is heavier than they should be, as parents, we should never place a school-aged child on a diet. The best available option for parents is to change the child’s food and/or increase their physical activity. The extra weight can put a child at a greater risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and other issues in the long-term including issues such as low self esteem and sleeping problems.

The 2 main areas of concern with our children that I picked up during the class are fast food and sugar.

The bitter reality is that many kids prefer junk food to fresh and healthy food as they are exposed to so many fast food joints. When I asked the kids what their favorite food was, 80% of the class proudly responded; burgers, pizzas and chips. Most of these foods have a lot of bad fat and salt that can harm the body. A good rule of thumb is that when eating out in restaurants, is to watch the portions- you can split one meal amongst two people. Incorporate salad/ greens to be part of the meal (many outlets now offer healthy options) and then have the kids take milk or water as their beverage. You may skip dessert or order fresh cut fruit slices sprinkled with nuts.

It’s no secret that sugar is a drug. Sugar contributes to weight gain and is the number one cause of obesity in the society today. Here are some of the names used on labels that refer to sugar. Corn Sweetener, Corn Syrup, or corn syrup solids, Dehydrated Cane Juice, Dextrin, Dextrose, Fructose, Fruit Juice Concentrate, Glucose, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Lactose, Maltodextrin, Malt syrup, Maltose, Raw sugar, Rice Syrup, Saccharose, Sucrose, Syrup, Treacle, Turbinado Sugar, Xylose. They should all be avoided.

Sugar is also extremely addictive- It brings about feelings of highs and lows in the body similar to what drugs do and the negative side effects are just as bad as drugs, if not worse. You will find sugar in juices, sodas, cereals, bread, pastas, rice and starches. These are the very foods we are serving our kids everyday.

Many children react badly to consumption of sweet foods and drinks especially if eaten alone without other food. A typical reaction is hyperactivity. This does not mean to say your child suffers from a condition such as ADHD, but just that these foods need to be restricted. Sweets are best eaten in small quantities as treats after main meals. Remember fruits are healthy sweets and are a better option for your kids. Once the child stops taking too much sugar, the addiction disappears; if a child is on sugar, they will always crave it. Kids who are overweight or obese drop the weight as soon as they stop taking artificial sugar.

As parents and as a society, we need to re-think our approach to feeding our children. Let’s go back to raw foods as opposed to processed foods- what our grandparents fed us. We never ate from cans or boxes. We picked food from the shamba. Let us involve our kids more when it comes to choosing healthy meals. Let us eat on the table as a family as opposed to eating in front of the TV. Let us get rid of artificial sugar and read labels always. When we do this, we shall help raise a healthy generation.

Here is to a healthy generation!