Healthy meals for your child in school
Good nutrition and healthy eating habits start at home, right from the first 1000 days of a child’s life. If these are not established, young children may become accustomed to inadequate dietary intakes which leads to undernutrition, says Oluwatosin Mathew-Ibrahim, parenting enthusiast and founder, Working Mums Diary – an online platform that addresses nutritional needs of babies and toddlers.
According to her: “The sad truth is that 3.5 million children die each year from illnesses related to undernutrition. Even when mortality is not the case, poor nutrition can lead to a variety of problems in children, including poor performance in school, excessive weight gain and obesity. Childhood obesity can in turn be a precursor to many health problems, from Type II diabetes to heart disease to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).”
“That being said, let’s take it down to healthy meals for children in school. As the world is changing and more parents are entering the workforce, children start attending daycare and school at a very young age, so they consume as much as one-half of their daily calories at school hence school meals matter. As children grow, their nutritional needs remain high and require vigilance.”
She said that due to stress and busy schedule, many parents may not notice if the child is eating well, especially if their knowledge and understanding of some aspects of basic nutrition is inadequate. Parents have to know the difference and importance between nutrient- dense meals and quantity dense meals. It is usually not the quantity of food, the way a food tastes or looks that matters, as our children put each spoon of food in their mouth in school or at home, it should be nutrient dense, done the right way and reflect healthy eating choices.
Now, because of the fact that children have smaller tummies, become picky at some stage, tend to play a lot hence making eating less of a priority, we need to make sure whatever meals we pack for school are nutrient dense. Parents may feel that packing healthy meal options could be time consuming, considering they have to go to work and all, “speaking from my own experience as a working mum of one myself, I say, having the required basic knowledge of nutrition, proper meal preps and invest in making weekly meal plans would sort this out just fine.”
Knowledge of Food
Mathew-Ibrahim stressed that parents are the primary care-giver of a child up to at least 6 years of age. Their knowledge of food and basic nutrition would impact the way they feed their children. Parents have to know the basic nutrients every child needs for proper growth, from iron to protein to carbohydrate (more of fibre and starches and less of sugar), to fat to vitamins and minerals and where they can source them locally.
They need to know how to combine the food to maximize the nutrient composition. They need to know the healthy meal options and shun processed foods as best as possible (brown rice instead or white, whole grain instead of refined, natural sugar instead of refined sugar, smoothies instead of fizzy drinks etc.) They also need to pass this knowledge to their children, so an healthy relationship with food is formed at a very young age.
You can consult with a child nutritionist to get the knowledge you require.
The child nutrition advocate said that the total time required to make a meal involves the preparation time and the making/cooking time. Usually, the preparation time is the time- consuming one. Now if these two are separated and the meal preparation is handled ahead of time, probably in bulk when we are less busy, making the actual meal when we are ready would thus require less time.
Say you want to make fried rice during the week, cook the protein and freeze over the weekend or a night before, cut your veggies too and freeze, if power is not stable you can sauté a night before. So it is just a matter of popping these ingredients in when cooking, you can even leave to cook while you are attending to other things.
Meal plan requires two things, writing down a realistic meal timetable ahead and listing shopping needs for the timetable. The meal timetable would help you focus on making nutrient dense meals without being overwhelmed during the week; and through your knowledge of food mentioned above, you source for the basic composition of the meals ahead.