Rashi, remind us again why is childhood nutrition so important?
Did you know that 35 percent of children in the UAE are currently obese?
More shocking still, is that children as young as 8 years old are being diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes- right here in the UAE.
In fact, UAE school kids are a staggering 1.8 times more obese than children in the US!
Statistics show around half of all obese children are at a risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and even cancer.
And... let’s not forget the psychological consequences that come hand in hand with childhood obesity.
What You Can Do?
Research continually shows that by ‘inculcating’ your children with good nutritional habits from a young age greatly influences YOUR child’s future.
In the UAE one of the main causes of childhood obesity is the proliferation of junk food. Not only are these meals unhealthy, but usually portion sizes are significantly larger than anything eaten at home.
The climate and considerable wealth of most families in the UAE also plays a part. Inactive children, avoiding the ‘heat’ and having a plethora of screens and devices offering round the clock entertainment, is the perfect recipe for overweight kids.
However, the biggest issue I face as a nutritionist is lack of parental involvement. For many, food and nutrition comes down to time and convenience and kids simply end up eating the wrong foods.
Parents need to remember they are role models. If you dunk down diet cokes, eat junk and don't exercise, then what will your child emulate?
UAE residents eat out at least 11 times a week and yet as everyone knows- while restaurant food might be tasty- it has a poor nutritional profile.
Parents need to realise, they have to be the change they want to see in their child.
Let's talk about breakfast. Can you remind us why it’s so important for children?
Did you know children who regularly skip breakfast are five times more at risk of developing obesity?
What your child eats for breakfast and more importantly - what time he or she eats it, will decide how metabolically active they will be throughout that particular day.
Kids who skip breakfast usually become extra hungry by lunchtime and make poor food choices, either by eating too much or choosing sugary foods.
Worse still, is that bodies which have not eaten breakfast switch to ‘starvation mode’ and convert almost all lunch calories into fat.
A child’s brain relies mainly on carbohydrates and ‘good’ fats as its main source of energy; therefore no breakfast equals a guaranteed brain slum by mid-morning.
Research consistently shows that breakfast eaters make better food choices throughout the day- with a steady and healthy rise in sugar levels. This then prevents hunger pangs especially for sugary carbs later on.
To snack or not to snack?
Snacking is great if your child has an appetite for it. However, if your child isn’t hungry, then it’s unnecessary to stuff food into his or her system (this is of course, assuming he/she is having at least 3 good balanced meals per day).
Any snacks you offer should be natural, BIG in protein and packed full of good fats. DO NOT be tempted to give them sugary cereal bars, fruit juices and chips as snacks. These offer empty calories and absolutely NO nutritional benefits at all!
Why not try instead: nuts, full fat cheese or yogurt, fruit popsicles, avocado and dark chocolate smoothies, to name a few.
And remember exposing them to healthy foods like quinoa, sweet potato, wild rice, avocados, coconut oil etc. from early age helps them develop a taste for these things later on.
Fussy eaters, what are your thoughts?
There are always reasons why your child is a picky eater, no matter how frustrating remember, they aren’t doing it on purpose to irritate you!
Taking the time to understand the reasons behind your child's fussy eating habits can be of great help.
There are three primary reasons why a child is likely to refuse food.
Our genes - what can we do to overcome hard wired desires?
Choosing sweet stuff, is actually deep rooted in all children’s primitive survival mechanisms. It works as a protection against poisonous berries, leaves and nuts, which usually taste bitter. Most children overcome this when they are still very young, however, some, who are not pushed by parents to try new tastes and textures remain with a sweet-driven palate.
If your child will only eat sweet flavoured foods, it is essential you begin substituting the refined sugar for more natural options, like honey, dates or date paste as natural sweeteners, however, parents should note brown sugar is just caramelised sugar and has exactly the same effect as white sugar.
Neuphobia - what is it?
If your child says "no" to everything new or healthy, he or she may have Neuphobia, or the ‘fear of new things.’ (This is another primitive and protective mechanism we are all born with).
Refusing to eat can also be a child trying to exert their authority or control and not because he/she dislikes it completely. Most parents hate hearing a "no" and stop trying after the first 2-3 times.
Rashi's top tips for great child nutrition
#1: Stop harping on about healthy eating/losing weight. And, while you're at it- stop making them feel healthy eating is a boring chore. If your child has poor eating habits, doesn’t exercise or is gaining weight, chances are- he or she is picking up these habits from you or your spouse!
So if you won’t do it for yourself, then at least for the sake of your child- start making better and healthier lifestyle choices today!
#2: Sweet potato fries, avocado chocolate pudding, full fat organic yoghurt with berries frozen together as a desert, nuts and seeds with cranberries or figs and peanut or almond butter with fruits are all great snacks for your kids.
Remember: aim to add at least 5 grams of protein into every midday meal.
#3: If your child is lazy and lethargic: it is very possible that his or her gut is sensitive to a particular food. Check for dairy and/or gluten sensitivities. Eliminating or minimising sensitivities can dramatically improve the way children think, feel and behave.
#4: Teach them how to read the ingredients on food labels. While nutrition labels can be complicated, you’d be surprised how quickly children can pick up the basics, like the order of predominance.
And remember, the first few ingredients NEED to be healthy- if the first few ingredients are sugar, molasses or anything you can’t pronounce, leave it on the shelves!
#5: Cereals are PACKED with sugar, it’s time to quit the habit and make healthier breakfast alternatives such as: a bowl of fruit with nuts seeds and yoghurt, whole eggs with mashed potatoes and/or smoothies: avocado banana almond milk flaxseed powder coco powder cinnamon and dates…
#6: Get moving- get active: and guaranteed your child will do to!