In order to achieve this educational goal and have an impact on children, we need teamwork—among parents, schools, and health professionals. In this way knowledge, strategies, and skills will unitedly promote good eating habits in children.
Several studies have demonstrated the impact that such education has had on both parents and children. During 2015, for example, a group of experts worked with 147 preschool students and their parents—through talks and workshops and actually filling lunch boxes with good, healthful food. The nutrition of those children did improve—from 78.91% with normal nutrition and 21.09% malnutrition to 85.03% normal and 14.97% malnutrition (Amaya, M, 2016).
Thus we see the impact of nutrition education provided by parents and health professionals working together, resulting in healthier children.
Children need to receive instruction about caring for their bodies. “Teach your children to study from cause to effect; show them that if they violate the laws of their being, they must pay the penalty by suffering disease. If in your effort you can see no special improvement, be not discouraged; patiently instruct, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little…. Press on until the victory is gained. CONTINUE TO TEACH YOUR CHILDREN IN REGARD TO THEIR OWN BODIES, AND HOW TO TAKE CARE OF THEM. Recklessness in regard to bodily health tends to recklessness in moral character” (Child Guidance, page 104, emphasis supplied).
From 1 year to 5 years
This stage begins with the weaning process, when it will be easier to introduce a variety of foods. Here the child starts to choose his favorite foods. He shows interest in them and enjoys rolling them around in his mouth as he savors the new flavor. Now is when good food habits are created, which will, with the family’s cooperation, be followed throughout adult life.
The child will watch what other family members eat. Preparing food at home is recommended, so the child can participate in food selection and preparation and eat three meals at regular times. Some recommend a couple of snacks, because of the child’s small stomach size and his constant activity. Children generally do not like to try new foods, especially those with strong flavors. They should be allowed to choose what they want to eat, so it is important to have a variety of healthful foods on the table, appropriate for all members of the family.
Parents are responsible for the food that is offered and also the way it has been prepared. While children decide how much to eat, you should avoid punishments and/or rewards for food preferences. Doing so may result in partial or complete rejection of some foods.
Children learn from what they see modeled in their own homes. Consider the following recommendations (Villares, 2015):
- Always try to serve a variety of fruits/vegetables in attractive ways, at least in the main meals, so the child can choose according to his taste; do not force him to eat foods he does not like.
- Prepare balanced dishes: Fruits and vegetables, whole-grain cereals, legumes, and dairy products (if these are used).
- Avoid sugary, stimulating drinks.
- Always keep a jar of plain water on the table, instructing family members to drink no less than 15 – 20 minutes before the meal and at least 1 hour after eating. (Obviously, this is the opinion of Evelyn Holmstroem! Edit as you wish.)
- Avoid spicy food; moderate the use of condiments.
- Using colorfully decorated eating utensils will encourage the child to enjoy his meals.
- Do not serve junk food at any hour of the day.
- The best foods are juicy and easy to chew, low in salt, tasty, and colorful.
- Meal time should be a positive family experience.
- Do not allow the child to eat while watching television or using a computer, cell phone, or tablet.
Also promote physical activity, trying to avoid children’s being inactive for long periods of time. Exercise contributes in a positive way to body growth and behavioral-cognitive development.
5 to 10 years
The acquisition of healthy habits along with a proper diet and exercise most notably influences the physical and intellectual development in this stage. Good habits will remain throughout life.
At this time, children especially like sweet, salty, and acidic flavors. Try to get the children to moderate consumption of such food. Better yet, encourage avoidance of sweet, salty, and acidic foods.
In the school years, diet becomes more independent of the family environment. Television and other technology assume a relevant role. Also, having their own money allows children to buy food without parental supervision.
Breakfast is usually quick and scanty. The afternoon snack frequently includes processed foods and sugary drinks, and the meal schedule is more irregular (Villares, 2015)
Parental responsibility for the child’s diet increases, because now the life style becomes habitual.
The most important challenge is to get the child to assume responsibility for his own diet. He should have an eating schedule, know how important punctuality is, perceive that eating should be in the designated place (not just anywhere), use utensils more efficiently each time, and choose to eat a variety of foods. Children should be encouraged to make good food selections no matter where or with whom they eat.
Evidence exists that shows that excessive parental control of children’s diets leads to poor regulation of caloric intake.
So then, the bribery system, with rewards to get the child to eat, can actually work negatively in the regulation of energy intake.
Therefore, a non-coercive family environment more likely leads to adequate consumption of what a child needs for good health (Villares, 2015).
Nutritional recommendations for this age group:
- Eating a nutritious breakfast will result in better school performance.
- A healthful breakfast should include a dairy portion (if the family is not vegan) or a beverage made from legumes or seeds; a whole-grain cereal, and a maximum of three fruits.
- Avoid offering alternative foods for every food the child does not like.
- Always try to provide a nutritious, tasty lunch, so your child will be less likely to be tempted by food offered at school.
- Avoid lunch foods rich in sugar, sodium, and saturated fats.
- Do not substitute manufactured foods, like instant soups, etc., for fresh vegetables.
- Prepare attractive dishes, including favorite foods.
- Promote physical exercise at least three days per week. Letting the child choose the activity will encourage him to do it.
- Be sure your children do not spend more than two hours per day in sedentary activities like television watching, internet surfing, video games, etc.
- Avoid excessive restrictions of foods.
- Enjoy family time at meals.
- In the three main meals, include vegetables and a source of protein.
- Have 4-5 meals a day; establish a regular schedule. (EH does not agree with this!)
- Provide age-appropriate utensils and food portions for children.
- Do not do other things while eating.
- Avoid snacks between meals.
If the child is gaining weight and height according to the criteria related to his age, there is no reason to worry about his food intake. The quality of his food, however, needs to be very good and to meet the following requirements:
Complete: include in each meal foods of the three main groups (vegetables/fruits, cereals, and protein).
Balanced: with good nutrient proportions.
Safe: free from pathogenic microorganisms, toxins, and contaminants.
Sufficient: covering all nutritional needs in such a way that the child grows and develops properly.
Varied: include different food in each meal time.
Appropriate: for the family’s taste, culture, economical resources, religion, and so on (NOM-043).
Promotion of healthy habits in children
“If, in their early childhood, children are not perseveringly and patiently trained in the right way, they will form wrong habits. These habits will develop in their future life and will corrupt others. Those whose minds have received a low cast, who have been cheapened by wrong home influences, by deceptive practices, carry their wrong habits with them through life. If they make a profession of religion, these habits will be revealed in their religious life”. Child Guidance, page 200
“Healthful living must be made a family matter. Let them study the principles of health reform and teach their children that the path of self-denial is the only path of safety”. Child Guidance, page 104
“Once formed, habits become more and more firmly impressed upon the character. The intellect is continually receiving its mold from opportunities and advantages, ill or well improved. Day by day we form characters which place the students as well-disciplined soldiers under the banner of Prince Emmanuel, or rebels under the banner of the prince of darkness”. Child Guidance, page 200
Health reformers, above all others, should be careful to avoid extremes.
The body must have sufficient nourishment!
(Counsels on Diet and Food, page 91, emphasis supplied)
References, all in Spanish
Amaya, M, A. Y. (2016). Impacto de intervenciones educativas sobre el estado nutricional en pre-escolares. sector Wichanzao – Trujillo. 2015. UVC-Scientia, 29-32.
Norma oficial mexicana 043-SSA2-2010. Servicios básicos de salud en materia alimentaria, criterios para brindar orientación.
Rosado, C. I. (2012). La nutrición y el comedor: Su importancia contrastada sobre el rendimiento escolar. Madrid: Ergon.
Serafin, P. (2012). Manual de alimentación escolar. 6-7.
Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y la Agricultura (FAO, por sus siglas en inglés: Food and Agriculture Organization), 2012.
Villares, J. M. (2015). Alimentación del niño preescolar, escolar y adolescente. Pediatría integral, 269-270.
By Alejandro Chimal Chimal, Mexico