Nourish Your Kids’ Soul

It is essential to make sure that kids get the right nourishment for all-round development

Boy eatingTeenagers often struggle being dependent on their parents, while having a strong desire to be independent. They may also feel overwhelmed by emotional and physical changes they are going through.

Kids' diet should sustain growth, promote health, and be enjoyable, because a number of physiological and psychological changes occur and affect their nutritional needs, including rapid growth and considerable gain in bone and muscle mass.

Parents either worry that their teenager is over-eating, starving, or maximising food fads. Did you know that most adolescents fail to meet the recommended dietary requirements for caloric and nutrient intake? Many teens, in fact, receive a majority of their calories from processed and high-fat foods.

Essentially lacking

A low intake of essential nutrients including vitamin A, folic acid, fibre, iron and calcium is prevalent among teens and adolescents. A low intake of iron and calcium, in particular, is common among female adolescents, which can impair cognitive function and physical performance, as well as increase the risk of osteoporosis later in life. Dietary surveys show that the foods most commonly eaten or preferred by children are white bread, biscuits, savoury snacks, potatoes, chips, chocolate and fizzy drinks. In general, children and teenagers eat too few vegetables, fruits, dairy foods, fish and lean meats. They have, in the process, also become less active.

Adequate nutrition for teens is vital for overall emotional and physical health. It is essential to ensure healthy eating habits in teenagers to prevent chronic illness in the future, including the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, obesity, lack of appetite [anorexia nervosa], cancer, diabetes etc.,

Among the more common teen eating habits are skipping meals, routine fast-food consumption, frequent snacking and dieting. By addressing each of these factors individually one can ensure that your teen is meeting the minimum nutritional requirements.

Teens skip meals for a variety of reasons, including irregular schedules, convenience, studies and social activities. Up to 50 per cent of teens skip breakfast today at one point or another. Breakfast is actually the most important meal of the day!

What can you do? With regard to breakfast, let your teen know that skipping breakfast can slow down their metabolism contributing to weight gain and poor performance. A busy lifestyle or running late are often reasons for teens to skip meals. Keeping regular sleeping and waking hours is a must and waking up early helps prevent the morning rush.

Snacking spree & dieting

Because of the "skipping meal" factor, many teens fail to eat three regular meals per day and resort to snacking. Having healthy snack items readily available including yogurt, fresh and dry fruits and vegetables can be beneficial. But, "comfort" snacking should not be encouraged. No parent, no matter how well meaning, will be able to avoid fast-food altogether. Teens are apt to eat fast-food because it is convenient and typically a social affair. Fast-food is often "jam-packed," full of fat and empty calories.

What can you do? Educate your teen as much as possible. Help them make smart food choices at fast-food restaurants. To as great an extent as possible, you should, as a parent, also work to provide wholesome and healthy foods at home.

Teens often diet because of the perception that "thin is in." Dieting can lead to dangerous habits including eating disorders in teens. Some signs that your teen may be dieting include: skipping meals, binge eating, fasting, or use of laxatives, or diet pills. One thing you can do for your teen is encourage healthy self-esteem and body image.

Remember that your teen will also model the behaviours that they see at home. If you are constantly obsessed about your weight, your teen is likely too. Always aspire to maintain a healthy and balanced approach to eating and your teen is more likely to do the same. One good approach is to attempt to eliminate the term "diet," and replace it with "healthy eating." If you regularly incorporate healthy lifestyle and dietary practices into your life, your teen is less likely to diet on a regular basis. Work with your teen to encourage a healthy lifestyle that incorporates sound eating habits and regular exercise. You might both benefit in the process!

One more thing. Parents should be exemplary and not argue in front of teenagers. Disharmony among adults at home will hit teenagers the most. This could also lead to eating disorders, depression or other health problems among teens.

"Healthy" or "junk" food

Teens tend to classify foods as either "healthy" [i.e., good] or "junk" [i.e., bad]. "Healthy" foods, of which fresh fruits and vegetables form the most commonly cited examples, are described as low in calories, sugar, fat, cholesterol, salt, additives, preservatives and artificial ingredients, and as sources of vitamins, minerals and proteins. "Junk" foods such as chocolate bars and potato chips are described as having the opposite profile, and are valued because they taste good and are convenient. Poor health is only one of several negative consequences of "junk" food.

Think of this: weight gain, acne, bad mood, laziness and cavities. Blame them on "junk" food which is often associated with snacks, friends, being away from home, independence and having fun. However, conflict is apparent as these foods also have the negative connotations of going-off a diet, being out of control, overeating and feeling guilty.

"Healthy" food is associated with family, home and meals, being on a diet, being concerned with weight and appearance, self-control and being good.

Creating health awareness is, therefore, the watchword - a healthy option you need to use to increase health foods and reduce junk-food consumption among kids.

Things to Do

  • Don't worry so much about the number of calories kids consume in a day. Children need quite a lot of calories to fuel their high energy levels and growing bodies. The important thing is where these calories come from.
  • No more than 30 per cent of kids' calories should come from fat. The less saturated [animal] fat, the better. Dairy products, fried food, or poultry need to be limited
  • The family diet should consist mostly of complex carbohydrates. Fruits, vegetables, wholemeal or wholegrain breads and cereals are great sources.
  • Serve kids a balanced diet. Be creative with vegetables and serve them regularly to your kids from an early age. Including fruit juices, salads, lassi, fruits, or tender coconut water in daily diet, is good for your kids
  • Avoid fast-food restaurants, except on rare occasions.
  • Encourage kids to drink water regularly. Once they get used to it, kids will love water. It's great for a balanced, healthy diet. Sipping a cup of lukewarm water with two tablespoon of honey is good and delicious. This could be done before walking or exercising in the morning. It also helps teenagers to have lustrous skin, eyes and bubbling energy
  • Keep them active! Don't just order them outside. Get them to stay fit, and increase your fitness in the process.

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Shantala Priyadarshini
Shantala Priyadarshini, MS [Ayurveda], is an academician-researcher. Her areas of special interest are: chronic degenerative eye conditions, compromised states of immunity, cancer and auto-immune disorders. She lives in Mysore.

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