Is the food you pack for your child healthy?

As a daily routine, most parents usually pack food and snacks for their children before they leave for school. This food is eaten by children during their break time or as lunch.

However, sometimes parents just pack anything their children want whether it is healthy or not.

Dr Paul Mizero of Polyclinique du Plateau in Kigali says children should take foods like rice and meat once in a while.

He recommends vegetables, yoghurt, milk, cereal, oats, and natural juice from fruits such as passion fruits, apples, pawpaws, pineapples, oranges, water melon and mangoes.

“Such food is healthy for children’s growth since it has low fat and no acid. Fruits also contain vitamins,” he says.

Mizero advises parents to change the kind of food their children take to school regularly, and not to feed them on one type of food because it kills their appetite.

He says the parents ought to pack a balanced diet with proteins, minerals, carbohydrates and low fat foods.

Mizero emphasizes regular drinking of water, and recommends parents to always pack clean drinking water for their children.

“Water helps in the proper circulation of nutrients in the body.”

Children, he says, should always clean their hands before opening their lunchboxes to keep away diseases like diarrhoea.

What not to pack

Mizero says certain types of food and snacks should not be packed for children, for example the ‘junk type’.

“Fried stuff, ice cream, cakes, chips, cheese, pizza, doughnuts, fatty meat, bacon, cheese, and burgers should be avoided as they contain saturated fat, cholesterol and trans fat which cause obesity.

“Sugary drinks like soda and artificial juices should be avoided because they cause diabetes,” he says, explaining that diabetes is a life-long health condition that occurs when the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly.

Mizero adds that soda and most sugary food stuffs are dangerous to the children’s health since they cause tooth decay, heart burn due to acids in them, obesity, inflammation to the heart, as well as the risk of developing kidney stones and stroke in later stages of life.

Since some parents are not certain about what type of food that is healthy for their children, in most cases they just pack any type of food for their children.

Parents share experiences

John Ishimwe, a resident of Gisozi, Kigali, and a father of two, aged five and eight, says he tries to monitor his children’s feeding since one of them is overweight.

Ishimwe adds that when he got to know that his son was obese, he stopped packing sugary drinks like soda and very fatty snacks like chips and pizza. He says he encourages his two sons to always take water and exercise regularly every after school to stay fit and healthy.

He says he takes his children for checkups once or twice in a month.

For Reachel Mutoni, a mother of a seven-year-old girl and a resident of Kigali, she keeps a timetable on what to pack.

“On Monday, I pack cake or biscuits and yoghurt; Tuesday I pack cakes and passion fruit juice; Wednesday it is always bread and soda; Thursday it is yoghurt and pancakes and Friday it is milk and cake.”

Mutoni, says that when her daughter gets tired of the same snacks, she gives her money so she can buy what she desires from the school canteen.

Claire Mutesi, a mother of one, says she always packs for her child food and snacks that have no sugar since she has issues with her teeth.

“My daughter’s teeth have issues and some even turned black because she used to feed on a lot of chocolates, sweets, biscuits, cakes and soda. I suspended sugary snacks and drinks from home, so my daughter can adjust to normal food like rice, beans, bananas and juice with little sugar,” she says.

What parents should know

According to Andrew F. Smith, the author of the book “Fast Food and Junk Food”, an encyclopedia of what we love eating, “A healthy diet plays a part in keeping hormone levels normal, while a diet high in junk food falls short of requirements.”

Smith says depression is a likely problem to teenagers and children as a result of eating junk food.

He says consuming trans fats, saturated fats and processed food is associated with up to 58 per cent increase in risk of depression.