Back to Basics
Children’s nutrition and their eating habits have never been so frequently discussed by experts, parents, bloggers, and even politicians, as in the past decade. But despite the amount and variety of information available for parents to make choices that are beneficial to their children’s eating habits, we are all still struggling. Children’s obesity is still rising fast. This problem is multi-faceted and greatly influenced by culture and social economic power. However, that is not what I wish to discuss. I want to talk about going back to basics.
As a mum in my 40’s I recall when I was a kid soft drinks were something we drank every fortnight on a Sunday lunch. But our exposure to drinks and foods high in sugar and “bad” fat content became more frequent, more acceptable until it turned into the norm. My generation has indulged in the increased consumption of junk food, easy access to vending machines, a fast food growing market, and ready made meals filled with contents we cannot even pronounce.
Despite my exposure to junk food as a teenager and young adult, I later returned to the eating habits I grew up with. In my family, it was believed that a hamburger or a sandwich is not a real meal, but a special treat; vegetables do not complement the meal, but are in fact the meal and should be eaten every day, meat should not be consumed on a daily basis; we had fruit instead of dessert, and sweet indulgencies were left for the weekend. Because after all they ought to be considered a treat and not the norm.
When it comes to my daughter, my husband and I practiced a similar philosophy. I remember holding back her exposure to candies and sugary food for as long as possible. Now that she is 6 years old I can see that this approach has paid off. I am sure once she is a teenager she will probably indulge in junk food and high sugary drinks, but eventually she will go back to what she has grown up with. She will go back to the basic habits she grew up with! Her eating habits were shaped towards natural foods, fruits, vegetables and pulses. This shaping of habits was not only sensorial but also iconic through pretend play.
When she was almost 2 years old my mother made crochet fruits and vegetables for her to play in her new toy kitchen. She absolutely loved it! She also had this cooking book with images of fruits and vegetables and she loved to match her crochet toys with the images see saw on the book.
Soon she started to bring her toy veggies and fruits to the kitchen to show us when we were cooking that we had the same items as her. It was really adorable to see a two-year-old who could barely speak try communicate about food with her toys. It was also very insightful and got me thinking about how parents can positively influence good eating habits in their children.
Around that time, I read an article about children as young as 18 months who were able to recognize the brand of fast food restaurants. I also read about studies which concluded that children who can recognize the branding of fast food and sugary drinks are more likely to be overweight.
It sounded like common sense to me! So why are we not using our basic common sense? We know that children imitate what we do, that they are curious by nature, we know they learn trough play, that their understanding of brands and symbols comes from babyhood, that they are little sponges soaking up what surrounds them. So why are we not nurturing more what we know from birth to help raise children who will make healthier choices?
The answer to me is clear, parents need to go back to basics. As parents we should lead by example and opt for and cultivate the healthier option whenever possible, stimulate our children’s curiosity towards fruits, vegetables, and natural foods i.e. while grocery shopping, and promote pretend play that is associated with healthy eating habits. We need to make healthy choices the norm again. We all need to go back to basics!
Healthy eating habits are developed as a result of many practices. However, I am certain that the early introduction of visual aid via pretend play toys (made out of rubber, plastic, wood or textile) will stimulate a baby’s cognitive ability and can only be beneficial to encourage healthy eating habits and a good relationship with foods.
- Flavia Augusta de Almeida