We've all seen the statistics: childhood obesity is on the rise in New Zealand, and around the world. Some children are genetically predisposed to be overweight, whilst for others it is an indication of our less active, convenience-driven lifestyles. Whilst there is no doubt that activity is a major key to staying healthy, nutrition is equally as important.
The foundations for good nutrition are laid during the preschool years, so now is a vital time for you to ensure your children know the importance of good eating, and how fun and beneficial exercise can be. Your child's food needs change as he or she grows, but the first 5 years of your child's life help to set your child's eating behaviour for life.
Wait until your baby is at least 4-6 months old before offering him or her solids. Begin with simple tastes such as baby rice, pureed fruit and vegetables, and gradually build up your baby's diet to include soft cooked meats. Your Plunket nurse will have some great information on introducing solids, and some Plunket clinics also run "Introduction to Solids".
When you begin introducing finger foods to your child, begin with plain tastes such as toast fingers, rusks and crackers. As he or she becomes better at self feeding you can add variety with cooked vegetable sticks and slices of fruit.
Toddlers are notoriously fussy, you may find that your toddler will want to eat bananas every day for a week, and then suddenly won't touch them. Try offering sliced apple, strawberries or citrus fruit instead, and then offer banana again a few days later.
Feeding a fussy toddler or child can be a daunting experience, but variety is the spice of life! Encourage your child to try a variety of different foods including vegetables, fruit, different types of meat, eggs, dairy products and breads and cereals. Don't worry if your child rejects a food the first time he or she tries it, it may take them a few tries to get used to the new taste. Of course all children are different, and there will be foods your child doesn't like. That's fine too; just offer different options from the same food group. For example if your child refuses to eat cheese, offer yoghurt or a glass of milk instead.
When your child starts kindy, Playcentre or day-care, he or she may need to take a lunchbox. Fill your child's lunchbox with healthy options such as marmite sandwiches, sliced vegetable sticks, fresh and dried fruits and crackers and cheese. Your child may enjoy packing his or her own lunchbox, or being involved in deciding what goes into the lunchbox. Teaching healthy options at preschool age helps your child learn to make healthier choices when he or she starts school.
If time is an issue, try making your child's lunch the night before, or making a pile of sandwiches and freezing them so you can 'grab and go' in the mornings. If you want to include snack foods such as muesli bars and biscuits in your kids' lunchbox, read the labels first as some brands contain more salt and sugar than others. Another great lunchbox option is muffins, which can either be made from scratch, or from a box of muffin recipe mix. Muffins are great because they are quick and easy to make, freeze well, and are a creative way of getting your child to eat fruit!
By providing your baby, toddler and preschool child with healthy food, you are giving him or her knowledge needed to make healthy choices for themselves, and reducing the likelihood that he or she will become obese later in life.