What your child eats today will have a great impact on their health throughout their teenage years up to adulthood. Consuming a well-balanced diet helps children and teens grow, develop, and help with their self-esteem.

Nutrition also plays a role in cognitive development which also influences how they perform academically.
Good nutrition also helps preventing children and teens from becoming overweight or obese and developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, as well as dental cavities and nutritional deficiencies such as iron-deficiency anemia.

The development of feeding skills, food habits and nutrition knowledge influences the cognitive development that takes place in a series of stages, each laying the ground work for the next. Unfortunately children don’t know enough on their own to naturally choose to eat well.

Numerous influences, some more obvious than others, determine the food intake and habits of children. Habits, likes and dislikes are established in the early years and are carried through to adulthood. The major influences on food intake in the developing years include family environment, social trends, the media and peer pressure.

It is therefore important to provide them with the right nutrition now and to guide them so that they can learn at an early age what’s necessary for good health. This will also help to set them up for a life of proper eating and nutrition, almost certainly helping them for the years to come.

Here are some tips on how to guide your child to have good food habits:

• Encourage your child to consume at least 3 balanced meals and two healthy snacks daily. The helps to control their blood sugar levels which also helps to prevent them from wanting any non-nutritious foods.
• The most important meal for a child is breakfast. Starting the day with a nutritious, well-balanced meal allows them to concentrate and learn to their full potential.
• Pack your child’s lunch for school, including foods from different food groups. Make sure to keep it fun and exciting by including a variety of colors, shapes and sizes.
• Always keep a variety of healthy snacks available such as fresh fruit, yogurt, raw vegetables and whole grains.
• Encourage your child to try out new foods as well as foods with different textures. Prepare foods with different cooking methods e.g. steam vs stirfry. This allows them to increase their knowledge about different foods also allowing them to increase the variety in their diet.
• Let your child participate in grocery shopping, meal planning, and meal preparation. These are great opportunities to teach them about good nutrition.
• Never use food as a reward or punishment. Children, who are deprived of meals as punishment, can tend to overeat when possible for fear of missing the next meal.
• Do not be overly restrictive with sweets and treats. You want your child to develop a healthy attitude towards them. It is great to teach them that moderation is the key.
• Discourage your children from snacking while watching television. People tend to ignore their hunger cues while watching television, leading to overeating.
• Encourage your child to be active. Let them discover physical activities that they find enjoyable.

Written by Monika Nieuwoudt (dietitian at Easy Health Wellness)