Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dealing with picky eaters


ENSURING that children receive a balanced, nutritious diet is a perennial issue facing parents. The task is doubly arduous when dealing with picky eaters. The proliferation of two-working-parent households poses another hurdle.

“It’s become more challenging these days because parents don’t necessarily spend all their time with their children and so may not know what their child is eating.

“On the upside, because both parents are working, they can buy foods that match their children’s nutritional needs,” said Bruce German, food sciences and technology professor at University of California, Davis, the United States.

Fast food consumption is another dietary dilemma for modern parents.

“Lifestyle and food go together. One of the things that make modern lifestyle unique is we eat in modern ways and fast food is a product of that lifestyle,” said German, who is also Nestlé Research Centre’s senior scientific advisor.

“To say we don’t want to eat (fast food) is to reject an entire way of living and that is not practical. However, fast food should not be the only food that a child eats.”

German stressed that two key factors to remember with regard to nutrition in children is nutrient density and food variety.

“That’s particularly difficult with children, who tend to like the same things and also sweet things,” he said.

“What’s also important is the kids’ participation in food preparation because that exposes them to various types of foods, which will inculcate a liking for more varieties of food.”

He said humans are not able to detect nutrient deficiency or availability in their own body.

“We will not know if we lack calcium, for example, and that’s one reason many people are choosing poor diets,” said German, who was in Kuala Lumpur recently to give a talk entitled, The Science Of Health.

“That’s why we have to teach children the importance of eating different types of food.”

Consuming a wide range also helps prevent the build-up of harmful components in food like preservatives, chemicals or hormones.

“That is a simple solution that has been successful for a long time. We have in place good regulatory institutions to ensure that toxins are rare in food supplies or in low amounts.

“Food companies have to constantly survey the ingredients they use for the presence of any contaminants or toxins because any poison would be catastrophic for a brand.

“As long as we are eating a diverse range of foods, the chances of any one thing accumulating in our body is low, so diversity is the greatest solution to those risks,” he said.

How can parents be sure that their children are receiving sufficient nutrients for their physical and mental growth?

“You need to practise an interactive parenting style. Pay more attention and find out what are the nutrients they need and in what amounts.

“One way is to pick foods that contain these essential nutrients. However, this is extremely difficult, especially if the child is a picky eater.”

He said good indications of healthy development in a child are that they are energetic, pay attention and are responsive.

“A clear sign of lack of nutrients in a child is inactivity. Signs of well-nourished children are that they want to run and play spontaneously everyday, have lots of energy and a healthy appetite, are attentive, actively respond when you engage them, their skin looks healthy and they have good bowel movements,” he said.

German added that parents should also be mindful that their child does not gain weight inappropriately, which will lead to inactivity.

“Keep track of the food they eat, ensure variety and a balanced diet. Reading labels and knowing the composition of foods is also important.

“I don’t think parents should ever be relaxed about their kids’ nutritional needs. There are no easy solutions.

“Nutrition, diet and health are complicated and you shouldn’t simplify them, but there are various ways to solve nutrition problems,” he said.

Sourced from TheStar

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