Children need energy for growth and development. Food (energy input) provides energy for daily activities (energy output). When a child overeats and does not have adequate exercise, the excess energy is stored as fat in his body. The child may then become overweight.
Overweight children may also develop childhood hypertension and diabetes.
Studies have shown that children who are overweight are more likely to become overweight adults. Overweight adults have a higher risk of developing diseases such as:
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Heart disease
Overweight children may also be teased by their friends. This may affect their self-esteem and self-confidence.
As a parent, you play an important role in setting a good foundation for your child's dietary habits. To stay fit and healthy, teach your child to choose healthy food and be active from an early age. Adopting a healthy lifestyle helps your child to feel fitter, look better and concentrate better in his studies.
My Healthy Plate and eating healthy
Use My Healthy Plate as a guide to know the types of food and the amounts your child should eat each day
Use "Recommended Dietary Allowances" to help you find out the number of servings from each food group your child should eat every day.
Refer to the following examples of one serving for each food group.
Infographic: Rachel Lim
As parents, you are in the best position to influence your child. If you are a good role model, eat healthily and exercise regularly, your child is more likely to do the same.
Here are some suggestions to help your child stay healthy.
a. Encourage your child to:
* Take breakfast every day.
* Eat a variety of food and eat all food in moderation.
* Eat at regular meal times and do not skip meals.
b. Make wholegrains a part of your child's diet. Replace refined grains with wholegrain food products like wholemeal bread, brown rice beehoon, brown rice, whole grain cereal or oat porridge. Choose grain products which are lower in fat, sugar and salt.
c. Get your child into a routine of eating fruit and vegetables. Offer your child a variety of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables every day.
d. Offer your child protein-rich food such as skinless poultry, lean meat, fish, legumes and eggs. Prepare these food with very little salt, sugar or oil.
e. Dairy products are important for your growing child because they are high in calcium. Include dairy products as part of his meals. If your child does not like to drink milk, you can include yoghurt, cheese, soya bean milk (calcium fortified) or small fish with edible bones, such as sardines or ikan bilis. If your child is above 2 years old, you can use low-fat dairy products.
f. Choose snacks which are low in salt, fat and sugar. Look out for snacks with the Healthier Snack Symbol.
g. Avoid sweetened drinks. Satisfy your child's thirst with water. Your child needs 6 to 8 glasses of water every day. If your child is very active, it is important to encourage him to drink more water.
h. Prepare home-cooked meals at least twice a day (e.g. breakfast and dinner). Cook food with less salt, fat, oil and sugar. Use healthier cooking methods such as steaming, boiling, stir-frying and grilling instead of deep frying.
i. Avoid cooking extra food. Cook enough for one meal. Advise your child to leave the table once he has finished the meal.
j. When eating out, you may offer your child two healthier options. For example, ask "Would you like to have noodle soup or porridge?" instead of asking "What would you like to eat?" Teach your child to say "no" to people who offer him food when he is not hungry. If your child keeps asking for unhealthy snacks, say "no" firmly and offer a healthier one instead.
k. Limit pocket money to a reasonable amount (based on your child s age). Do not give excess pocket money for your child to spend on unhealthy snacks.
l. You can help your child reduce his intake of unhealthy food gradually. For example:
* If your child drinks 7 cans of soft drinks a week, cut down to 4. Once he has achieved his goal, try to reduce the quantity further.
* Drink half a can of soft drink instead of 1, dilute it with ice or add water to it.
m. Praise your child when he chooses healthier food.
Nurturing healthy eating habits in your child
1. Create a routine for your child This means setting a time for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack times. Once you have a routine, mealtimes become more relaxing for your child.
2. Be there with your child Having meals as a family creates opportunities for you to model healthy eating habits to your child.
3. Establish the habit of sitting in a regular place for meals It is best not to have him lying down, walking or running about while eating.
4. Cultivate food choices from young Find simple ways to increase your child's awareness of healthy and nutritious food. For example, you could take him along to the supermarket and teach him to make healthier choices.
5. Do not allow distractions during mealtimes These include watching television or playing with toys.
6. Avoid arguments during mealtimes Mealtimes should be relaxing, pleasant and fun experiences for your child.
Guiding your child to make healthier food choices
a. Try using gentle encouragement. Never force or nag as it does not work.
b. Include a variety of colourful food in your child's meal and cut food into interesting shapes such as star-shaped carrots to attract his attention.
c. Be realistic. Start with small portions and refill his plate on request.
d. Remain composed if your child is not keen on finishing his meal.
e. Encourage self-feeding. They enjoy the feeling of being "grown-up".
f. Be persistent! It takes numerous attempts before your child accepts new food. Continue to offer him a variety of food. If he does not like a particular food, offer it again in a week's time.
g. Combine new food with food he already enjoys eating, for example an ice blended fruit and milk smoothie or cheese on broccoli.
h. Do not use food as a reward. Instead reward your child with a movie or a board game.
If your child has been given an appointment for medical assessment and/or nutrition counselling at the Student Health Centre, remember to bring your child for these sessions. If you wish to bring your child to your family doctor, please cancel the appointment at the Student Health Centre.
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