If there is one issue that worries families in the first years of life, it is getting their children to eat well. That they follow a balanced diet and grow strong and healthy so that they can energetically face all the activities that they have to face in their day to day. Proper nutrition during childhood and adolescence is essential for the full development of the physical and intellectual potential of each person.
Obesity has become a major health crisis, the great pandemic of the 21st century. In Spain, in the last two decades, child and adolescent obesity rates have doubled, reaching 40% of school-age children, which is due to malnutrition due to excess and excessive consumption of processed products and high-calorie foods and few nutrients. To this poor diet, we must add the few hours that schoolchildren do physical activities.
Obese or overweight minors can develop a large number of health problems: hypertension, cholesterol, different types of diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. In addition, it can trigger low self-esteem and social isolation. Conditions that can be perpetuated into adulthood and seriously affect people’s quality of life.
Those of us who have had children with little appetite know the inconsistencies that we have come to do to get them to eat. In anguish that they would not go to bed with just a glass of milk, we have used uneducative strategies to achieve our end. That they eat distracted watching the tablets or television, applying meaningless tricks that friends or family had explained to us or threatening that we will not give them what they want if they don’t finish everything on their plate. An emotional manipulation that does not get them to end up eating.
The fact that children or young people do not enjoy food or that they refuse to introduce new foods creates a lot of anguish and frustration in families. Living pending the number of spoonfuls that they have managed to put in their mouths or fearing that they will not develop like other minors in their environment is enormously exhausting. In addition, it generates the need to consult the pediatrician often to find out if they follow the appropriate lines of growth.
There is no nutritional justification that shows that we should force ourselves to eat. No boy or girl in the world will suffer from malnutrition if they have access to food. Often, mothers and fathers believe they have the power to decide how much, when and how they should eat. They will not do better if they are coerced, rewarded or punished at every breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is not ethical, educational or healthy for it to be done and it will only create an aversion towards food, damage attachment and cause an alteration in the relationship with food that can cause serious imbalances in adulthood.
They know what they need to eat and you should learn to listen to them and respect their choice. This does not mean that they can always eat what they want or like, but that from respect they should be taught to have a healthy diet and educate them with good habits.
How can we get our sons and daughters to eat well?
- The important thing is to educate them from a very young age through example. Children should see that we maintain a balanced diet, that we eat all kinds of foods, especially those that we invite them to eat because they are good for their health, and that we enjoy our food. If a boy or girl never sees that her parents eat vegetables, fruit or fish, it will be very difficult for her to want to do so.
- You have to be aware that eating well should become a pleasure and not a threat or punishment. Food cannot be used as a bargaining chip to get them to behave or pay attention to us. For example: “If you’re good, I’ll buy you an ice cream/you can have pizza for dinner.”
- The moment of the meal at home should be in a pleasant and relaxed space where quality time is shared together, where you can talk about what has been done during that day. A relaxed daily activity that helps strengthen ties.
- Making them aware of the importance of eating healthy and educating eating habits: the good palate is educated. Explaining the characteristics of the food, the health problems that can result if a healthy diet is not followed and involving them in the purchase and preparation of the family menu. Habits that if acquired in childhood will accompany them throughout their lives.
- The daily diet must be adapted to the age and needs of each individual. The schedules of each meal must be well established and the nutritional needs distributed among them. Teach them the basic concepts of nutrition and the importance of avoiding frequent consumption of unhealthy foods such as junk food, soft drinks or industrial pastries.
As Anthelme Brillat-Savarit, a French jurist, said: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are”. Let’s get our children and young people to enjoy a healthy diet that helps them to have good health.
*Sonia López is a teacher, psychologist and educational disseminator. She is the mother of two teenagers.
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