Being a parent is easy, said no one ever. You want your child to be happy, and at the same time healthy and bright. You want them to enjoy childhood, but also grow up to be a well-adjusted person. Good parenting is all about establishing good habits. Here are a few parenting tips to make it a little bit easier:
1. Make sure your kids eat breakfast
Studies of otherwise well-nourished children show that those who eat breakfast – regardless of what they eat – perform better in school in mathematics, continuous performance tasks and problem-solving, than those who skip breakfast.
Breakfast eating is associated long term with better concentration and attendance. Children who eat breakfast are also more likely to meet their requirements for energy, protein as well as important key nutrients like iron, B vitamins and calcium – which ultimately contribute not only to better cognitive abilities but overall health.
2. Feed your kids frequently
Because the brain is a huge consumer of sugar, children need to eat regular meals throughout the day to fuel not only their growing bodies but their brains as well. Hence it is important to ensure that children eat frequently, by including nutrient-rich snacks as well as regular meals in their daily diet.
3. Power your kids up with nutrients from food
Nutrients are better absorbed into the body as food instead of supplements. There is also evidence that many of these nutrients are absorbed better in the presence of other nutrients; for example, vitamin C helps with iron absorption. There may also be positive interactions between nutrients that researchers have not fully examined. However, for some children who are picky eaters, supplements might be helpful, but always check with a qualified health professional first.
4. Breastfeed for at least six months
Breast milk is rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) which play a role in brain formation and development. Give your baby the right start from infancy by breastfeeding as much as possible in the first six months. The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for babies in the first six months of life.
For those families where this is not possible, high quality infant formulas that contain the necessary nutrients for your infant’s growth and development including omega-3 PUFAs are available.
5. Let children try all types of food
Introduce a wide variety of foods to your child from a young age. While your child may not like all foods they try the first time, giving them variety fosters a positive, adventurous attitude to food, which is fundamental to long term good nutrition.
Children and adults, whose diet consists of a great diversity of foods have a much better chance of meeting their nutritional requirements and enjoying a healthy diet.
6. Plan ahead for breakfast
You’ll probably have some difficulty getting your kids to eat breakfast in the morning. In the rush to get the kids to school and beat the morning traffic, it’s easy to skip breakfast. A little advance planning helps to ensure your child gets breakfast and makes it to school on time.
7. Make store-bought breakfast foods work for you
Stock up on whole-grain, lower-sugar ready-to-eat breakfast cereals and ice-cold milk. If your children are lactose-intolerant, sugar-free soymilk or yoghurt works great with cereal as well. For additional fibre and vitamins, sprinkle the cereal with fresh, dried or frozen fruit. Kids don’t even have time to sit down for breakfast? Get them oatmeal or granola bars that they can munch on the school bus, washed down with convenient packs of dairy or soy milk. (Just make sure you read the labels so you know what’s in them).
8. Choose whole grains
Whole grains contain a healthy dose of iron as well as complex carbohydrates that will help to fuel your child for longer periods of time. Traditional foods like buns with red-bean filling are also a good option. Be creative!
9. Give your kids snacks
Remember snacking between meals is actually healthful for the growing child, especially if the snacks provide both calories and other nutrients. To keep your child mentally active and alert throughout the day, pack high nutrient snacks like fruits, nuts and cereal bars in their school bag. These snacks will also help to keep them away from snacks that they may buy at school which are big on calories but low in micronutrients like iron and omega-3 PUFAs.
10. Cut your kids some slack
Don’t be over-zealous in introducing “healthy” foods to children. Chips and candy for example, are fine as an occasional treat as long as they are not eaten frequently.
11. Stock your fridge and cupboards with wholesome goodies
Keep plenty of fresh fruits, nuts and high-fibre snacks like whole-grain crackers at home for them to munch on in between meals.
12. Don’t force children to empty their plates
Never force your children to empty their plates. Instead, let them decide how much to eat and when. This may help children to tune into their own internal appetite cues, and avoid any tendencies to excess consumption and undesirable weight gain.
13. Get Them Out and Moving
When your kids are busy with schoolwork and activities, encourage play and physical activity as a counter-balance. Making time for rest, relaxation and physical activity are as important for brain development as much as a good diet.
Play and relaxation helps children emotionally and psychologically, helping them to learn interpersonal skills not found in books or from study. Feeding and nurturing a bright child through good nutrition is not achieved by relying on supplements or insisting that children eat ‘super’ foods they do not like.
We know it’s not easy being a parent, so we hope that these tips at least help you a little in your lifelong parenting journey.
Have we missed out any important nutrition tips? Share your tried-and-tested ones in the comments below!