Healthy holiday; eating strategies

Imagine f Students are at home for the holiday, a long one in this case, and so parents are expected to take full charge in different aspects; that is, monitoring what they do and what they eat, among other things. 

Many students complain about the food in schools and use the holiday to make up for it, stuffing themselves with all sorts of junk, like burgers and fries. However, experts warn that they shouldn’t forget about nutrition, as a poor diet could lead to health complications.  

It’s easy for parents to pamper their children with the fast food they crave, but, at what cost? 

Obesity is one of the biggest health problems that can result from bad eating habits.

The Demographic Health Survey carried out in 2010 indicated that five per cent of children under five are obese. 

Abilty to read and write can give one’s livelihood a boost,for example in an agricultural startup business. Net photo.

However, in 2015, the latest statistic, it showed that this figure rose to eight per cent in that particular age group.

Dr Alex Mucumbitsi, the head of the nutrition and hygiene department at the National Early Childhood Development Program, says teaching children healthy eating habits is key to avoiding obesity.

He notes that adolescent and even adult obesity continues to be a serious problem worldwide.

To prevent and reverse this, he says, it is imperative that students remain healthy during the long holiday.

What is required?

Mucumbitsi says that parents with young children tend to provide sweets and other sugary stuff just to make them happy.

On some occasions, he says, some even use these unhealthy treats as a reward.

“This can lead to unhealthy eating habits. It should be stopped. Instead, focus on making nutritious snacks like fruit and vegetable salads,” he advises.

Gerald Ruzindana, a health and wellness specialist at Amazon Nutrition Cabinet, a clinic in Kigali, says as parents, they have an important role in shaping their children’s eating habits, by creating a positive eating environment and not forgetting to be a role model in this matter.

This, he says, shouldn’t apply only during holidays. In fact, he points out that if a child is brought up in a culture that encourages healthy eating, they will follow this and parents will not even have a problem when their children break for holidays.

He says the problem comes in when such children have been exposed to unhealthy eating habits all along.

Nonetheless, Ruzindana says good nutrition can still be achieved if only parents lead by example.

To help these young ones reach and maintain a healthy weight and reduce their risk of none communicable diseases, he says parents should introduce a healthy diet combined with physical activity to their children.

Marie Grace Nkundabombi, a Kigali-based nutritionist, says empowering teens with a modicum of control over what they eat during the holidays helps establish a sense of trust and independence to last a lifetime.

She says parents should emphasise moderation in every food they provide for their children.

She says they should as well encourage children to drink more water, avoid sugary drinks and sodas, which are notorious for their empty calories and adverse effects on the body.

The nutritionist says it’s better if parents instil the culture of drinking a glass of water prior to a meal.

This, she explains, can satisfy the sensation of hunger, and help to prevent overeating among young people.

Importantance

Ruzindana adds that when this is done, it can keep children emotionally healthy.

“During this time, when children or teens are exposed to good nutrition, it helps their body be strong and also fight some illness,” he says.

Mucumbitsi says good nutrition plays a key role in the healthy development of children and youth, adding that nutritious foods provide the body and mind with the energy needed to grow, feel well, be active, stay healthy and most importantly, learn.

Ruzindana says during holidays, most children stay indoors, and for this reason, it’s important for the parents to encourage them to always have regular meals and healthy snacks every day.

He explains that this creates a healthy routine, and prevents them from eating whenever they feel like, and overeating.

Meanwhile, Professor Joseph Mucumbitsi, a cardiologist and the president of Rwanda Heart Foundation, says it’s important for parents to create time for their children, especially during mealtime.

He says this is so because when parents eat together with their children as a family, they can watch and guide them on what is best for them as far as eating healthy is concerned.

He goes on to add that eating together tends to promote more sensible eating habits, which in turn helps family members manage their weight more easily.

Family meals provide an opportunity for family members to come together, strengthen ties and build better relationships, which is important for young people.

Besides, he says, it also prevents children from eating while watching television, or with gadgets in their hands.

“Eating meals while watching should be avoided as this can lead to overeating, thus exposing the child to a higher risk of obesity,” Mucumbitsi warns.

He says that parents should act as role models because depending on what they eat, they can influence their children’s eating habits in a positive or negative way.

He says that what a parent eats sets an example of what your children will eat.

Embracing the culture of consuming more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and legumes, among others is important, Mucumbitsi says.

What to eat

Nkundabombi says nutrition and fitness are extremely important for the growing bodies of children, adolescents, and young adults.

For instance, she says, foods such as fruits contain quercetin, which helps stimulate brain activity.

A good example, she says, are apples as they are easy to offer as a first food and throughout a baby’s transitional food stages.

Avocado, she says, should also be given to children as it is a nutrient-dense fruit with healthy fat, vitamins and minerals that contribute to brain cell development — and the texture is soft, making it easy to eat.

She adds that dairy products, including cheese and yoghurt, are rich sources of calcium. Besides its role in bone health, she says calcium forms an important part of the electrical signalling system within the brain.

Ruzindana says that although water is not food, it’s important for hydration, which helps to maintain blood flow and oxygen transport to all parts of the body, therefore, parents should ensure they give enough water to their children.

Experts say limiting foods high in calories, fat, and sugar and salt is important.

Such foods include; chocolates, cookies, doughnuts, French fries, energy drinks among others.

When these foods are limited or not eaten at all, Ruzindana says children will be less likely to eat them as well.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com