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How can I help my child get a healthy start to the 2021 school year? A dietician advises

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Studies show that breakfast can improve mental performance, concentration and mood. (iStock)
Studies show that breakfast can improve mental performance, concentration and mood. (iStock)

Now that the festive season is over, it’s time to tighten the belt on nutrition and get your children ready to start the school year with smart nutrition.

Bianca Tromp, a FUTURELIFE dietician, says that growing children need to maintain a balanced diet at home and school so that they have all the nutrients they need for optimal growth and development.

"It's not always easy to monitor what your children are eating at school, but you can help them establish healthy habits, which are guaranteed to stay with them until they are much older."

"Smart nutrition starts with introducing a wide range of wholesome foods that will ensure that even the fussiest eaters have the necessary nutrients for a healthy body and mind," Bianca says.

She also offers these three tips to help your child start 2021 smart:

Read: Why you should let babies be in charge of how much they eat

1. Start the morning with a nutritious breakfast

Studies show that breakfast can improve mental performance, concentration and mood. Well-nourished children perform better academically as they have better concentration, show improvement in behaviour, problem-solving skills, short-term memory and attention.

Aim to offer your child a Low Glycaemic Index (GI) breakfast as these foods are broken down slowly and will give your child a steady and sustained supply of energy throughout the day in addition to keeping them fuller for longer.

Encourage them to start the day with a low GI bread and scrambled egg with sautéed veg or swop out the egg and veg and make a peanut butter and banana sandwich instead. 

2. Let them make their lunch

It may sound counterintuitive to get your child to make their lunch as their choices may not necessarily be the ones you would like to encourage.

That said, the benefits of teaching children to make their lunch are massive; it offers you an opportunity to teach healthy eating habits, it teaches them to be responsible and take ownership and reduces food waste.

The key, however, is to offer them a special non-negotiable formula (with options of foods under each category) that they need to follow when they are packing their lunch.

For example, the formula could be:

  • 1 Fruit (apple, banana, grapes, strawberries, nectarine, orange)
  • 1 Protein (Chicken, boiled egg, low-fat cheese)
  • 1 Starch (low GI Brown Bread)
  • 1 Healthy Fat (Nuts, avocado, hummus, peanut butter)
  • 1 Vegetable (Cucumber, carrots, baby tomatoes, lettuce)

Also read: Poor diets are damaging children’s health worldwide warns UNICEF

3. Limit refined sugars

There are foods in your pantry that have added sugar, these are empty calories that do not contribute to the healthy nutrients that your child needs.

Sugar is also naturally present in some nutrient-dense sources like fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy which should rather be included in your child's meal plan.

This doesn't necessarily mean banning all forms of refined sugar, but rather offering alternatives like protein bars as opposed to chocolate bars. You can also limit the consumption of refined sugar to weekends only.

"As parents, we are responsible for guiding our children through life, and that includes making sure that they are well-equipped to make Smart food choices. You will be helping them get through long school days and ensure that they maintain a healthy lifestyle which will ultimately impact them for the rest of their lives," Bianca concludes.

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Submitted to Parent24 by FUTURELIFE

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