Am sure just reading the title alone has you thinking huh? Who doesn’t involve their kids in activities and why does anyone need a reminder to do so. According to UNICEF an estimated 2.5 million children in Nigeria under the age of 5 are malnourished. On the flip side, there is a gradual rise of over-nourished (obese) children in Nigeria, especially in urban cities and towns. Now am sure you’re still asking, what does this have to do with getting the children involved, shouldn’t we just feed them less or feed them more?
Well the truth is, just “feeding” less or more is not the issue here, because just like adults, children have preferences; and unlike most adults, most children aren’t really given a choice on what they get to eat. This then creates a mentality that it is only certain foods that are available as options regardless of whether they are nutritious or not.
Over the years, nutritionists have established that, some children will eat what they are given, while others just won’t eat “anything” (meaning they very selective and tend to just want sugar-loaded foods). It has also been established that those who won’t eat anything, eat more and would go for seconds, if they are asked what they would like to eat and are involved in the food prep process. The point is, children want to feel like they are in charge of their food and meal choices. If that authority is guided properly, eating habits improve and overall health is boosted.
So, I have given the benefits of what happens when the kids are included, but the burning question still remains, how do we get the kids involved?
Here are a few options to try;
Inquiring what they would like to eat: Most children from the age of 4 upwards are old enough to say what they would like to eat; if given options. Give your children the options of different meals that you know they already like and tweak them to include more veggies and fruits. For example, Pap/Ogi is always a winner in my house, so when my little ones (both under 2) won’t eat anything else, I whip up a nice warm batch of ogi (our mix includes brown rice, yellow corn, guinea corn and potatoes), ladened with milk, spirulina which is a superfood, and sometimes fruits available at home.
Encourage cooking: An old wives’ tale once said when you cook the food you end up not eating it, but that isn’t the case with kids. When children are involved with the cooking process, they are more eager to try the meal out to know if what they “made” is good. For instance, when I bake with my daughter, I let her lick the spoon or stir the mixture, just so she gets a taste of what’s cooking. I find that she looks forward to the dish; even if she may not like it at first but at least it is not a total rejection. With older children, they can be asked to blend or mash up ingredients for dishes, or even add a new ingredient into the recipe.
Be the role model: Below the age of 4, children are still exploring and getting used to their surroundings. This is also the time in which children copy what they see. This is a great time to exhibit good eating habits as the parent which your children can emulate. In my household, water is our staple drink, unless someone sneaks a sugary beverage past me. I make it a point to drink water in-front of my kids so they know it’s importance. As they grow older, the absence of sugary beverages won’t be a loss for them, especially since they never really had it to begin with.
In summary, getting the children involved in their meals, not only improves their eating habits but it also encourages better overall health; but most importantly the children don’t feel like they are being left out or being forced to eat what they don’t want. In the long run, we have healthier kids and happier parents.
Pediatric Nutrition Consultant
Carib Health Team
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