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Promote healthy food habits early

Sheela Krishnaswamy, a Bangalore-based nutritionist and wellness consultant, offers parents advice on making healthy food choices for children.

Your children eat what you do. Therefore, parents need to model healthy eating habits, opt for nutritious foods at home and while eating out. Similarly, teachers in school where children spend a major part of their day, need to pay greater attention to what’s in their students’ lunch and snack boxes, and advise parents if necessary. Here are some tips to promote healthy food habits in children:

• Stock the kitchen and refrigerator with healthy, non-fussy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetable sticks, yogurt, hummus, sprouts, roasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, pista, cashew, peanuts, etc), dry fruits (raisins, figs, dates, black currants, etc), puffed rice, roasted channa, and corn.

• Don’t stock aerated beverages, biscuits, cookies, fries, namkeen, sweets, chocolates, bakery items, pastries or other high fat/high salt/high sugar items at home.

• Offer high fat, sugar and salt foods only on special occasions such as birthdays and festivals.

• Don’t force children to eat as much as you think they should. Let them decide the quantity of food to consume.

As a parent, you decide the quality of food they eat, not quantity. This balance helps prevent obesity.

• Encourage and allow children to draw up the menu once a week.

• Ensure that every meal includes nutrients essential for childrens growth and development. Ideally, a balanced meal should comprise cereal grain, protein and vegetables. The cereal could be rice, wheat or millet; protein could be dal, pulses, meat, eggs, and any vegetables or fruits. Additionally, if your child wants dessert, the choice could be between a fresh fruit or a homemade pudding made of fruits, dry fruits, and milk.

• Discourage addition of sugar in milk, fresh fruit/vegetable juice, and smoothies. Instead sweeten with jaggery or dates. Also encourage children to drink buttermilk and tender coconut water.

• Don’t offer comfort foods, especially sweets or desserts, as rewards for good behaviour.

• Expose children to stories and cartoons that promote healthy diets and physically active lifestyles.

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