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Parents should teach the young ones to eat healthy

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Faith Kariuki | October 11th 2015

NAIROBI: After spending some time with a group of children aged between 3 to 10 years and their parents, I realized that some parents do not know the different food groups that constitute a healthy meal.

This made me think; if parents cannot correctly identify different foods and the food groups they belong to, what information on healthy eating do they pass on to their children? In the absence of their parents, are children able to make healthy choices at mealtime? Do they even know the importance of healthy eating?

Children are now on an unplanned break from school and it is expected they will get bored in the course of the ongoing teachers' strike. When children are idle and bored, they look for something to occupy their time. They might end up passing time by consuming lots of sugary, fatty snacks. But with the right information they can make healthier choices.

The key to healthy eating is including a variety of foods from each of the five food groups. These food groups include; fruits and vegetables; grains and other starchy foods; meats, fish egg and legumes; milk and dairy products; fats, oil and sugar.

Fruits and vegetables come in various colours due to their unique nutrient composition. This group of food benefits children in various ways; it boosts the children's immune system improving their disease fighting ability, helps children develop a healthy digestive system and provides nutrients essential for cognitive development.

Grains and other starches form the main source of energy for normal body functions. This group is also a good source of dietary fibre, carbohydrates, and a wide range of vitamins and minerals which provides the body with the nutrients and energy needed for normal growth and development.

Lean meats, fish, eggs, legumes and nuts are the major sources of proteins necessary for proper building, repair and maintenance of body tissues. This group is also a good source of a wide variety of essential vitamins and minerals crucial for good health.

The dairy group—milk and milk products like cheese, yoghurt and fermented milk /mala provide—a good source of calcium, vitamins A, B12, C and D, zinc and proteins. Calcium and vitamin D are essential for strong bone and teeth formation.

The fats, oils and sugar group should be used sparingly. They give too much calories but not many nutrients. They are however very important; they are a good source of energy for the little ones—fats and oils aid in absorption of many nutrients in the body.

These food groups provide adequate nutrition for children, which is important for proper organ function, healthy growth, a strong immune system and neurological and cognitive development.

Despite its importance, nutrition education is not given the attention it requires.   For children to learn good nutrition habits, parents need to take up the role and give the correct information and also be good role models to the young ones. For this to happen, they need to empower themselves first.

Young minds are more open to new information, therefore what young ones learn at an early age is more likely to be carried on into adulthood.

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