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Eat and be merry, and keep kids both healthy and happy

by HealthExpert (writer), , October 05, 2016

Credit: Photo by ponce_photography
Via Pixabay

Eating should be a pleasurable and sociable experience as well as a nourishing one, but for many families mealtimes are a battleground where rebellion and anxiety clash.

Toddlers assert their will and independence by refusing anything but biscuits; parents fume and fret as their lovingly prepared delicacies are consigned to the bin once more.

The teenage girl's refusal to eat "proper" meals causes rows that are more an expression of parental worry about what she is doing away from the home and table than about a wasted pork chop.

But beneath all the emotional baggage that food acquires, children's diets are giving cause for concern.

The old pattern of proper meals each day has gone. Snacking and shift-eating make it harder to ensure a balanced diet is being eaten. On average, children get one-third of their energy intake from biscuits, lollies, crisps and cakes, and their consumption of fats is well above targets set by nutritionists.

Children are bombarded with advertisements for fizzy drinks, lollies and potato chip; shops make fatty and sweet snacks easily available; girls as young as seven claim to be on a diet as anorexia and bulimia are on the rise.

The cumulative effect of the dominance of ads for sweets, fast foods and sweet cereals is to make them desirable. It's not just about promoting individual brands, the long-term effect is to create a climate in which those types of foods are attractive choices.

Children may appear to be highly media-literate, but studies show that many under eight cannot differentiate between programs and advertisements, and many older than that do not really understand the purpose of a commercial. They do, however, want the foods they see advertised.

Photo Credit: mentalhealthy

The more television children watched, the higher the number of advertised products they asked for, and the higher the sugar consumption in their diet!

It would be preferable for fatty and sugary foods not to be advertised on children's TV at all: But that would be extremely difficult to achieve. We should try instead to get a better balance of advertising messages about a range of foods.

Indeed, research shows that children respond positively to TV promotions for healthy or unfamiliar food, especially if other children are shown enjoying it. They will name and pick fruit as a favourite snack if this has been sanctioned by messages on TV.

What can parents do? For a start, do not get mad or frantic, the issue will become distorted.

Even the strangest diets, nothing but bread and butter and milk, for example, can be turned quite easily into nutritionally balanced intakes.

The most important thing is to achieve a balanced diet for children that favors beneficial foods and limits exposure to those high in unsaturated fats and sugar.

But it is pointless to say that kids shouldn't have those things. They need to be seen as part of a normal diet. Food is more than nutrition; sharing and interacting with friends is very important, a child will feel miserable and excluded if everyone else has crisps and chocolate biscuits.

Parents can encourage children to make healthy choices by providing guidance and the variety to make those choices.

Children sometimes know quite a lot about what is good and bad, but their exposure to good food is often limited. If parents provided more variety, particularly for healthy snacks, kids could make alternative choices.

Children tend to like what they know and we recommends introducing new foods slowly, and not getting upset if they are refused.

The view that lollies should be offered as treats and rewards is starting to be seen as old-fashioned. Associating sweets with pleasurable experiences makes other foods seem dull. If kids are involved in the preparation of food, they are more likely to try it.

About the Writer

HealthExpert is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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