With schools and daycare centers across the country closed for the time being, childcare has become a challenging undertaking while under home quarantine. As we work from home, wash the laundry and do other everyday household activities, we find it hard to make young ones eat less junk food and more fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. Without appropriate, evidence-based solutions, this will make them prone to being overweight, have obesity and heart diseases in adulthood.
With this in mind, a recent statement by the American Heart Association (AHA) argues that we should give our kids control over their meals. That is because although many children have an innate ability to stop eating when they are full, they are also influenced by the overall emotional atmosphere, including caregiver wishes and demands during meal times. Under pressure to eat in response to caregiver wants, children will find it hard to listen to their internal cues that tell them when they are full.
According to the statement’s authors, letting children choose what and how much to eat within an environment full of healthy options not only encourages them to develop and eventually take ownership of their decisions about food, but may also help them develop eating patterns linked to a healthy weight in life.
“Parents and caregivers should consider building a positive food environment centered on healthy eating habits, rather than focusing on rigid rules about what and how a child should eat,” Alexis C. Wood, assistant nutrition professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the writing group chair for the scientific statement, said.
The AHA’s statement suggested the following tips to help your kids develop healthy eating habits while in quarantine:
Pay Attention To What Kids Are Saying
Whether you are a parent or a caregiver, it is a good idea to pay attention to kids’ verbal and nonverbal signals of hunger and fullness. Do not pressure them to eat more servings than they wish.
Let Kids Try Out Various Foods
Do not focus on what or how much your children eat. Instead, encourage them to try a varied diet. Start by consistently and repeatedly offering healthy food for your young ones to eat, using “preferred” foods such as dips and letting them consume the food themselves.
Follow Set Meal Patterns Consistently
Set an appropriate structure that provides rules and limits around what children should eat. This can be in the form of consistent snack routines, timing of meals (what time for them to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner) and selective availability of food at home (what should be present in the kitchen for young ones to grab and eat).
Let Kids Decide On What They Eat
Focus on creating an environment that encourages your kids to develop decision-making skills while providing exposure to a variety of healthy, nutritious foods for them to eat throughout their childhood.
Check If Infants Are Hungry Or Full
If you have infants to take care of, it is important to observe their patterns of hunger (e.g. opening the mouth wide, settling into the feed) and cues of fullness (e.g. taking interest in surroundings, decreased activity levels, pulling away or detaching from the nipple, falling asleep). You should also try to distinguish these from nonappetite-related cues.