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Durban - As a parent, you are always struggling to get your children to eat healthier meals. But in between your career, your day-to-day schedule and finding a little “you” time, it is almost impossible. The discussion around healthy eating and related lifestyle diseases is mostly seen to concern adults? But what about our children and their battle to address the bulge? As we celebrate Youth Month this June, we should use this as an opportunity to focus in on the health of our children.

According to the International Obesity Taskforce, one out of every 10 children is overweight. This means that there are 155 million overweight children worldwide, with 30-45 million of these classified as obese. In South Africa, almost two out of every 10 children are either overweight or obese.

Chairperson of Cambridge Weight Plan SA, Renny Letswalo said parents are busy and strapped for time, however effort needs to be made to create positive eating habits while our children are young.

“Feeding a child can be puzzling, and there are some specific areas that parents can focus on to help avoid some of these frustrating challenges,” Letwalo said.

She added that exposing children to fruits and vegetables early in life establishes a pattern of fruit and vegetable preference and consumption early on in your child’s life.

Five ways to get your children to eat healthy:

Structured meal times - Structured meal and snack times help to develop a healthy intake pattern and the parent is responsible for what, when and where the child eats. However, allow your child to decide how much they eat.

Gone are the days of emptying your plate - Don’t force children to “empty their plates” as this practise may encourage overeating. Together with this, parents should dish appropriate serving sizes – different to those of adults.

Food shouldn’t be a reward - Parents should avoid using fast food as a reward for good behaviour. Food should be used to fuel energy and provide nutrition, not as currency to behave in church for example. This is the wrong approach towards healthy eating as it would make children develop a thing for junk food and a disliking for fruits and vegetables.

Involve your children - If you’re struggling with developing healthy eating habits among your children, you may find that involving them to select the vegetables, fruits and healthy carbohydrates for the meal of the day will encourage them to eat.

Stock the fridge up - Stocking the fridge up with healthy options will discourage your children from munching on snacks when they feel hungry. To avoid this you must keep your refrigerator stocked with healthy snacks such as nuts, fruits and vegetables. You can always teach them to make a salad by using already chopped vegetables. Always remember to be a good role model as children develop habits they observe.

“Parents should remember that eating patterns are established early in life as a response to caregiver-child interactions, mealtime routines, foods offered and modelling from family members,” Letswalo said.

The Mercury