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Encouraging Kids to Eat Right

Edward M. Santos, MD, FPPS

5 mins to read Jul 1, 2020

Have you ever been in a situation wherein your child does not want to eat the food you prepared for him? Does your child take forever in finishing his food? Does your child prefer fruit juice over milk? If your answer is yes to these questions, we know how these situations can be frustrating for you and most parents. Children need a healthy diet to protect them against malnutrition. In addition, the nutrients they get from a balanced diet will help their immune system in preventing diseases, including viruses.

Building good food habits

Here are some tips on how to encourage kids to eat a balanced diet:

  • Feed slowly and patiently. Encourage kids to eat but do not force them.
  • Make mealtime an enjoyable time. Maintain a positive environment during mealtimes to encourage your kids to eat healthy food.
  • Behavior modelling has consistent impact on a child’s eating habits. You can show your kids how enjoyable it is to eat healthy food.
  • Be creative in preparing your child’s meal to make it more palatable. Try giving food with different colors and cutting these into different shapes.
  • Involve your children in choosing the food they want to eat, food shopping, and even cooking. Kids love the sense of being involved and this will encourage them to eat the healthy meal they prepared.

What about dietary supplements?

Micronutrient supplementation in the form of vitamin drops or syrups is a therapeutic strategy to deliver micronutrients that are important for growth and development. However, evidence suggests that dietary diversification and food fortification are more effective than supplementation in addressing micronutrient deficiencies. Therefore, vitamin supplementation may not be needed if your child is getting the nutrients from a variety of nutrient-dense food.

Are children still drinking milk?

Milk contains calcium which is essential for bone and teeth development. Calcium is also needed for the healthy functioning of the nerves, blood, heart, and muscles.

In the Philippines, data from the 2018 Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) showed that the intake of most micronutrients, including calcium, were inadequate for children under 5 years. The highest inadequate calcium intake was 84% for children 3 to 5 years old.

In addition, milk consumption for children aged 3 to 5 years old is just 36% while for 6 to 12 years old, it is down to 17.5%. It further decreases to 11% by age 13 to 18 years old.

Another study was done to learn about the beverage consumption of Filipino children and adolescents. Results showed that pre-school children mostly consumed milk and chocolate-based beverages while a minor proportion consumed coffee, tea, and soda. Milk consumption decreased among school-aged children and adolescents. Sweetened beverages such as soda, fruit juice, and chocolate-based beverages were consistently consumed by Filipino children and adolescents. Soda was the most popular source of energy for snacks. It is also the most commonly consumed food item and source of dietary sugar by children 6 to 12 years old.

Consuming too much sugar in liquid form may put the child at risk for health conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, diarrhea, and dental caries. Giving sugar-sweetened beverages to children can also displace milk in the diet, which can negatively affect the quality of the child’s diet. This can lead to inadequate calcium, iron, and Vitamin A among children and adolescents.

Milk should therefore be included in a child’s meal to help meet the daily calcium and nutrient needs. It is best to check for milk that is age-appropriate for your child.

Balanced meal towards a well-balanced and holistic child

We all want our kids to have healthy and optimal nutrition, coupled with building good feeding habits, is a way of making that possible. A healthy nutrition in the early life leads to healthy adulthood and ageing. Therefore, the kind and amount of food that a child eats today will have a huge impact on his lifelong health. A balanced meal appropriate for age, including a daily serving of milk, should contain the important nutrients that kids need to help them achieve optimal growth and holistic development.


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