Why do you need to educate your children about healthy eating from infancy?
“The percentages of obesity at all ages are very high, but the worst thing is that they continue to increase year after year”. These are the harsh statements given by paediatrician Pedro Frontera when we asked him how serious the global child obesity figures are.
It does so on the basis of information from the World Health Organization, which estimates that in 2016, around 41 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese. In the same year, more than 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese.
Figures in line with the main conclusion of a study carried out in June last year by the Spanish Society of Cardiology: in Spain, one in four children is obese or overweight.
The good news, judging by the declarations of the World Health Organisation and also the paediatrician consulted by this centre, is that childhood obesity can be avoided. How? Through basic nutritional education. “A basic nutritional education highlighting the most important concepts would be more than enough,” says Pedro Frontera.
Why nutrition education for children?
The figures seen above serve as a more than resounding answer to this question. Nutrition education would prevent childhood obesity. But apart from that, proper nutrition in childhood would also lay the foundations for healthy eating in adulthood. In this way, children would be less exposed to diseases related to poor nutrition, such as heart disease, sedentary lifestyles and cardiovascular diseases.
Guidelines for educating children about healthy eating
As we have explained, the benefits of educating children about healthy eating from childhood are almost infinite. To avoid falling into fast food dinners and meals due to haste, lack of time or carelessness, Pedro Frontera has provided Agora Lledó International School with a series of tips to instil in the little ones a healthy eating base which they can maintain throughout their lives.
What is most important in the professional’s eyes is parental education: “Parents are key to children acquiring healthy habits. Without their awareness, education and active collaboration, it is not possible to prevent overweight and obesity,” he explains. In line with this, it is worth remembering that if parents do not have a healthy education, they will not be able to offer it to their children in any way.
So if your diet is not healthy and balanced, start working on it, with or without professional help if it is not necessary. This is the only way you can continue to set an example for your children.
“Children are great imitators, they do what they are taught by the adults around them, they form their habits by repeating what they see in parents and teachers”, says the professional. Therefore, if your little one sees you making the shopping list, choosing only seasonal products, worrying every day about what they are going to eat and the recipes you are going to prepare, they will learn to imitate these behaviours as they grow up.
Never use food as a reward or punishment.
We have left to the end one of the most repeated mistakes in all homes where there are children: the issue of using food as a reward or punishment. “If you behave well, I’ll buy you an ice cream. “If you still don’t want to eat this, I’ll save it for dinner and if not, I’ll save it for tomorrow’s breakfast”. “If you don’t stop shouting tonight I’ll give you chard for dinner”. Do you recognise yourselves in any of these expressions?
They are extremely repetitive and extremely wrong. “No blackmail. No rewards or punishments with food”, says the expert. You should know that every child has an appetite, which may vary from day to day, and this is not a problem. If you have too high expectations with regard to food and then your child doesn’t want to finish everything on the plate, the reaction can be tense. Also, if you force your child to eat, he or she may end up refusing food compulsively.
So, what happens if you give him fish and he refuses to eat it because he doesn’t like it? You shouldn’t open a negotiation of ‘if you eat it I’ll give you this or that’ or directly change the dish for another more appetising one for the child,” says Frontera. In this way, there is a risk of falling into an inadequate diet.
“Getting used to foods that are necessary but which the child does not accept well should be done by repeating the offer, either with other varieties or cooked in a different way,” she says.
Other tips for healthy eating
- Try to keep mealtimes friendly, discerning and away from any distractions.
- Don’t let your child undervalue food: help them understand that it cannot be a topic of discussion.
- Try to avoid bad faces and shouting at the table.
- If a food can be substituted for another with the same or similar composition, you can give in (for example, prefer macaroni instead of spaghetti). However, there will always be a family consensus
- Try to avoid binge eating and snacking between meals.