Understanding their nutritional needs.
This is the period in a child’s life when she can understand that she needs to eat when she is hungry, and when she is also capable of assimilating what parents and other caregivers teach her about food. Consequently the early school years are an excellent period for teaching children good eating and dietary habits.
Unfortunately the years from seven to ten, are also often associated with poor eating habits and certain problems that may or may not be associated with dietary intake.
The following problem factors that have a negative effect on dietary intake in school children have been identified internationally and also in South Africa:Peer pressure
Young school-going children are particularly vulnerable to outside influences when it comes to a healthy diet. Teachers, playmates and other adults, may undermine all the positive aspects of a child’s diet education.Other children
If you suspect that other children, or even teachers, are giving your child the wrong dietary advice, don’t hesitate to confront them and tell them not to fill your child’s head with harmful advice.
For example, other children may eat copious amounts of sweets and cold drinks and your child may view this type of diet as ideal.
Speak to your child about the problem, pointing out that the body needs all kinds of foods and nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and protein to grow healthy and strong, not just sweets and cold drinks.
Teaching your child good eating habits is something worth fighting for.Family logisticsa) Parents
If you have a young school-going child, it is up to you to set a good example when it comes to eating habits and dietary intake. Encourage a balanced diet and regular meals and try not to indulge in bad dietary habits all the time.
Fathers play a particularly important role in teaching child food likes and dislikes. There is nothing more counterproductive than a dad who openly refuses to eat foods such as fruit and vegetables, when you are trying to teach your child to eat a balanced diet.b) Siblings
Older siblings, who may already be going through the diet fads of the teenage years, can also have a negative effect on young schoolchildren’s food intake. Talk to your teenagers and ask them not to influence their younger brothers and sisters when it comes to skipping meals and eating weird and wonderful food combinations.
If necessary, print out interesting food and diet related articles to encourage discussion around these issues.School feeding
Young children are also exposed to all kinds of temptations at school when they visit the tuck-shop or stay in after-school care. If your child is being exposed to snacks and foods that have a low-nutrient density (few vitamins and minerals and low in fibre), at school or at the after-school care centre, encourage them to make visits to the tuck-shop for special occasions.
It may be a good idea to involve a dietician to help you devise more nutritious alternatives, e.g. low-fat milk or Yogi-sip instead of cold drinks, fresh or dried fruit instead of biscuits, wholewheat rolls with tuna and salad instead of fatty pies. The effort will be worth it, because your child will never again be as receptive to learning how to eat a balanced diet than during the ages of 7 to 10.