Dr Jonathan Halevy*
We all know how important it is for children and teens to make healthy food and activity choices. But, while it may be easy to say, it’s not always so easy to do!
However, the benefits of setting some time aside to plan key steps towards getting the kids and whole family eating better and doing more activity make it all worthwhile.
When children are young, parents and other caregivers are responsible for providing an environment that helps them maintain a lifestyle that is beneficial to their health. You can help your child by doing the following:
- Be a positive role model for healthy eating and activity habits
- Provide a calm, reassuring atmosphere at regular meal and snack times
- Set appropriate limits for screen entertainment like television, tablets and video games
- Involve the whole family in fun physical activities
- Help children develop and maintain a positive body image
- Avoid restrictive diets and excessive exercise regimens
When it comes to nutrition and fitness, the role of parents is the same no matter the size of their children. A healthy weight for kids is about much more than numbers. It is about healthy behaviours, such as enjoying a variety of foods and activities for strength, flexibility and aerobic capacity.
Good food and eating well
Healthy eating means enjoying a variety of foods from each of the five food groups every day.
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating gives us a good idea about which foods children and teens need each day. These include:
- Plenty of vegetables, legumes, fruits.
- Plenty of cereals, including bread, rice, pasta and noodles – preferably wholegrain
- Lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives – choose reduced-fat choices where possible.
And remember, water is the best drink for kids and teens.
Did you notice the foods that are not on the guide?
Lollies, chocolates, soft drinks, cakes, chips and the like do not fit into the food groups. That’s because, as tempting as they are, children and teens (and adults as well!) don’t actually need them.
These ‘extra’ foods, sitting in the bottom corner of the guide, should only be eaten sometimes and even then, only in small amounts.
How much of each food group?
Every child is different, and the amount of each of the food groups they’ll need will depend on age, body size and activity level, but there are recommendations for how many servings of each food group children and teens normally need.
Encourage them to eat more vegetables and fruits
Getting kids to eat more fruit and vegetables every day can sometimes be a struggle. However, research shows they’re more likely to tuck into these healthy foods if they’re available, ready to eat and their parents are enjoying them.
We can also involve our kids in growing, buying and preparing different foods. This can help them taste and enjoy a bigger range of foods, including fruits and vegetables
Teen’s eating habits can change
The life of a teenager is full of change. As well as physical changes, there are changes in fashion, attitude, interests, income and even tastes.
So it’s not surprising that their eating habits may change as well – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse – and may include dieting, skipping meals, filling up on takeaway food or, if you are lucky, taking up cooking as a serious hobby.
Eating habits of teenagers can be brought about by:
- Growth spurts
- A focus on fitness and looks
- Media messages and body image
- Eating away from home.
Diets are not the answer
Diets can do more harm than good. Research suggests kids who diet end up weighing more than non-dieters, with lower self-esteem and greater risk for eating disorders. Do not put your child on a diet, especially without consulting your doctor and a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Here are some simple actions adults can take to help children develop positive lifestyle habits. These strategies have been shown to promote a healthy weight for adults, too:
- Be active by playing together
- Make family mealtimes a special time together
- Eat breakfast
- Don’t forbid foods or use food as a reward
- Dine out responsibly
- Enjoy a rainbow of fruits and vegetables
- Encourage mindful eating
- Choose healthy beverages
- Remove televisions and video games from bedrooms. — Family Medical Practice
*Perhaps the most well-known figure at Family Medical Practice thanks to frequently posting paediatric advice on social media, Dr Jonathan is a graduate of the Sackler School of Medicine of Tel Aviv University, then undergoing his residency in the Pediatric Department of the Wolfson Medical Center in Israel, earning his certification as a specialist in paediatrics. He first joined Family Medical Practice in 2005 and returned in 2013 following a short period in Melbourne.
A published author on paediatric care, Dr Jonathan is frequently invited by the local community to conduct health talks, having addressed many schools and parent groups on paediatric health issues and other medical topics. His Vietnamese-language book “Nuôi Con Sao Cho Đúng” on the subject of children’s health was released in 2015.
Family Medical Practice was the first foreign-owned primary healthcare provider in Việt Nam, and has consistently remained at the forefront of international-standard medicine since 1995. It offers extensive healthcare and emergency medical services nationwide to Vietnamese, expatriate and corporate customers.
For more advice on any medical topics, visit Family Medical Practice Hanoi at: 298 I Kim Mã, Ba Đình District. Tel: (024) 3843 0748. E: [email protected]
FMP’s downtown Hồ Chí Minh City location is: Diamond Plaza, 34 Lê Duẩn, District 1; 95 Thảo Điền, District 2. Tel: (028) 38227848. E: [email protected]
FMP Đà Nẵng is located at 96-98 Nguyễn Văn Linh, Hải Châu District, Đà Nẵng. Tel: (0236) 3582 699. E: [email protected]