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Good dietary habits

Your children’s daily experiences with food will shape the way they view nutrition.

SIX-year-old Kumar is a happy and healthy kid, but when it comes to mealtimes, he often eats nothing but yellow noodles for weeks on end. No rice, no vegetables, just yellow noodles. Once in a while, to break the monotony, Kumar has some peanuts.

Anne, Kumar’s playmate, is quite the opposite. When her mother prepares noodles, she insists on rice. When mum prepares rice, she’ll ask for bread. Her mum has become so frantic that she arranges special meals for Anne while the rest of the family has their regular meals.

Anne’s best friend, Laili, refuses to eat anything remotely green. She screams when she sees veggies on her plate, and throws tantrums when given green apples. Her mum has given up bribing the five-year-old with candies and toys to get her to eat her greens.

Do any of your children behave like Kumar, Anne or Laili when it’s time to eat? If they do, don’t worry. Eating can be a chore for many children between the ages of one and 10. In fact, 45% of children face one problem or another during mealtimes.

There are all sorts of reasons why children become selective eaters. It could be due to a lack of familiarity with food or insufficient food variety and/or quality. It may be because your children are distracted during mealtimes. Your children could also be asserting their new-found independence. Perhaps they’re frightened by some kinds of food.

Children often look up to their parents. Are you setting the right example for your kids in terms of food choices and mealtime habits? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you generally eat an unhealthy diet that’s high in fat and low in fibre?
  • Do you eat out more often than you eat in, as a family?
  • Do you snack in front of the TV instead of having a proper meal at the dining table?
  • Do you make negative comments about foods you dislike in front of your kids?
  • Do you have second or third helpings despite feeling full?
  • Do you habitually skip meals, especially breakfast?
As parents, you have a responsibility to teach your children good eating habits and about nutrition. It starts with you practising good habits yourself. Your children won’t perceive healthy eating to be a priority if it isn’t something they see you doing.

Understanding the basics

It’s important that you understand the basics of good nutrition yourself. Having sufficient knowledge about nutrition enables you to model the right habits and behaviour, and motivate your children to do the same. Not sure where to start? The Food Pyramid Guide is the most widely accepted reference on healthy eating. Read it and understand its key principles.

Regular family mealtimes

One simple and effective way to instil good eating habits in your kids is to start having meals together as a family. Eating together encourages your children to be more receptive to food and increases their food choices. They also learn portion control, since there’s only so much food placed on the table for everybody. Create a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere around the dining table.

Clean up your fridge

If your refrigerator is stocked with chips, fast foods, fizzy drinks and sweets, it’s time to rethink your food choices. Make a healthy statement by stocking on more fruits and vegetables. If you need snacks in the house, stock up on wholesome ones such as wholegrain crackers, wholemeal sandwiches, cereals, milk and yoghurt. Make these healthy snacks visible and easily accessible to your kids.

Everything in moderation

Watch your eating habits because your children are watching them too! The key principle here is to take everything in moderation, whether it is a sweet dessert or wine after dinner. Watch your portions and maintain a good variety in the types of foods that you eat.

Have fun being active

Good nutrition isn’t just about what or how much you eat. It’s also about being physically active. Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. The key is to have fun. Once your children see you living and enjoying the active lifestyle, they will follow suit.


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