Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Children need to understand how and why we eat

HERE’S a question — do children understand why we eat? Are we as adults armed with the correct information about energy balance and growth?

Getting ourselves fit and well is one thing, but are we investing into our children’s wellbeing?

As a parent I also see the pitfalls of one of the biggest battles parents have — the dreaded blackmail to eat food, go to bed, get dressed ... and the constant “sugar” battles.

There are all sorts of contra-indications if your child is not gaining the correct amount of nutrients or energy and therefore as parents and adults we must continue to educate children to eat a healthy balanced diet to keep up with their energy and nutritional needs.

The next generation is already (sadly) hugely influenced by social media and the “thin” pretty pop star/film star. Without the correct guidance our children will be missing out on the vital ingredients to a well-nourished start in life.

I already see the next generation — some as young as 10 — checking themselves out in the windows of shops, mirrors, talking to their friends about their weight. Is this our responsibility? Yes it is. We need to educate children. We are breeding a huge population of body-conscious children who need our support.

We know that the media, family habits, culture and environment all play a big role in our eating choices and habits, but our children are also affected by this. Young children rely on our choices driven by the above factors to give them the best possible start in life.

Our knowledge to help them develop in infancy brings about rapid growth. Early childhood requires more energy and nutrients as tissue and organs mature. Puberty gives a final growth spurt, whilst the nutrient and nutritional needs of teenagers massively increases to meet the rapid growth, muscle and bone gain (and for girls the start of their menstrual cycle).

Children work out very quickly how the reward system works, i.e. “eat that up and you will get a sweet / to stay up late / to watch TV”. Using food as a reward or punishment can bring about serious eating concerns for the child as they mature. Think carefully before entering into the circus of your child’s eating habits as it can undermine healthy eating habits. Children need to understand the balanced diet as they start understanding why we need to eat.

We are inclined to cave into our children’s desires for the pretty cake with the intricate icing. But we satisfy ourselves by saying “you can have it when you have eaten your dinner / fruit / vegetables”. Treating our children with reward systems can lead to eating disorders as the child matures. Better to let children be well, nourished, happy and functioning the healthy way, the right way and the balanced way.

Emma-Jane Taylor

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