JIS News

It’s the start of the new school year, and oftentimes, in the hustle and bustle of back-to-school preparations, the importance of good nutrition and its significance to a child’s education, as part of the planning process, is overlooked.
Paediatric Dietician and Nutrition Internship Co-ordinator in the Ministry of Health and Environment, Deon Bent, is appealing to parents to make the value of good nutrition and meal planning, a priority in their plans. “A child needs to have good nutrition to learn, as a hungry child cannot learn,” she tells JIS News. “Good nutrition is very important for school age children, who are still in their developmental stage,” she adds.
With rising food costs becoming an increasing concern for most people, Ms. Bent offers meal planning as one affordable option for fulfilling the nutritional needs of children. When parents plan meals, she explains, it helps them to efficiently manage their budgets and cut down on cost. “When the meals are planned, they tend to be more appealing and nutritious,” she says.
According to Ms. Bent, 30 per cent of a child’s energy or nutritional requirements are consumed in that one important mid-day meal. She recommends that parents therefore, plan balanced meals that are high in energy, and not only meet the nutrient requirements but also communicate healthy eating habits.
“Like breakfast and dinner, a child’s lunch should be well planned and include a wide variety of foods from the six food groups,” she points out. “Parents need to ensure that they get their daily intake of the major nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals, water and fibre,” she explains.
The Co-ordinator says that parents need to make meals an extraordinary experience for their children. For those who require help in designing enticing meal plans that will beckon the children to partake, Ms. Bent suggests that they become familiar with innovative and creative food preparation methods that will stimulate the taste buds of their children. She acknowledges that some foods may not rank high as favourites, but remains convinced that children can be motivated to eat healthy meals, particularly vegetables.
“When parents are planning meals they should bear in mind a number of factors, such as the colour, texture, shape, method of preparation and the flavour,” she explains. Ms. Bent says that while some children may not be keen on eating a whole carrot, the same vegetable presented in an inviting format can lure the child into eating it. “Bright orange carrot sticks, served in different shapes and sizes are quite appealing and nutritious,” she notes.
Although there may be a wide variety of fruits, such as oranges, tangerines, pineapples and watermelons available, children sometimes shun these fruits, because of how they are presented. While they may not want to eat these fruits in their whole state, she says, with minor adjustments, they may be more willing to eat diced pineapple slices or segmented oranges or tangerine, than these fruits as a whole.
Reiterating the need for meals to reflect food choices from the six food groups, Ms. Bent offers examples of food or meal ideas from some of these groups. Bread, biscuits, cereal type products, such as cornflakes, and starchy tubers and crops, such as potatoes and bananas, she notes, are all staples and supply the body with carbohydrates.
The protein group includes food, such as chicken, fish, cheese and milk, which she explains, is a good source of calcium for building healthy bones and teeth. Legumes, she states, may take the form of nuts. “Whole grains, such as nuts, should not be given to children 1 to 4 years of age; instead, they should be mashed or cracked to prevent choking,” she cautions. For parents who give their children the freedom to purchase their lunches, Ms. Bent suggests they engage their students in regular nutrition talks that will inform the children’s purchasing decisions. She is imploring parents to inform their children of the role that different food types play in their education process and in maintaining good health; for example, those that improve memory and growth, and those that help to prevent chronic diseases.
“Try to discourage the child from purchasing foods that are high in sodium or salt or sugars, such as cakes, pastries or sweetened beverages,” she advises. “Most of the chronic diseases later on in life are caused by too much animal fat in the diet or too much salt or sugar,” she continues.
Ms. Bent is also appealing to meal providers, such as concessionaires, and restaurateurs, to begin to take responsibility for the nation’s children, their health and ultimately their productivity. She asks that they vary their cooking methods and limit their use of frying, which contributes a lot of fat.
“Instead of frying, do some baking, do some grilling and remove the skin and the fat, that you can see, from off the meat before seasoning,” she urges, adding that, “these are some of the ways that you can reduce the amount of animal fat in the meal that you give to your children.”