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Nutrition best taught at an early age

By Faith Kariuki | March 22nd 2016

I took my three-year old daughter to her friend’s birthday party the other day and because it was a weekend, the place was packed with children, their parents and nannies.

As I was unfamiliar with most guests, I had to devise a way of keeping myself occupied otherwise all the shouting and crying would have driven me crazy.

Luckily entertainment is never lacking in a place with children.  

Unlike many children’s parties, this one had a wide variety of snacks, including vegetable and fruit cuttings, boiled maize, fresh fruit juice and of course the junk consumables like sodas, potato crisps and sausages.

I covertly observed the choice of snacks and eating habits of parents and their children and was amazed by the similarities in their choices.

Most parents and children went for the high calorie snacks.  Their plates were so full that they could not walk without spilling some.

A few parents and children went for the fruit and vegetable cuttings first and sparingly nibbled on the high caloric snacks later.

Here is the thing, young children learn by watching the world around them.

They learn  by observing and emulating the actions of the adults living with them, even when the adults are not deliberately trying to teach them anything.

Children learn their eating habits, what to eat and how to eat, based on the habits displayed by the adults they live with.

Parents who routinely make healthy food choices help instill good dietary habits in their children even without knowing they are doing so. Food preferences are formed early in childhood and may affect an individual’s dietary habit for life.

Eating together as a family promotes healthy eating habits since the child is constantly observing the parents.

This also helps in making healthy eating a normal part of everyday life and enables the children to make healthier choices, even when they are spoilt for choice in such places as birthday parties.

Having conversations about the benefits of healthy eating greatly helps children understand the importance of choosing healthier meals as they grow up.

Talk to your children in a language that they can understand. For example telling a three-year-old that carrot will help them see their favourite cartoon better makes much more sense than telling them carrots contain Vitamin A which improves eyesight.

Remember, your child will appreciate everything you do without judging you. Everything you do is a blueprint — you are their biggest role model.

Parents should watch their eating habits and set a good example. Instilling healthy eating habits in your children at an early age gives them a better chance of living a healthier life.

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