HUNTERSVILLE – September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.
To spread awareness and educate parents, Novant Health doctors are holding a free Community Health Education Session called “Addressing healthy eating habits at an early age.”
The event takes place 5:45-7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25. Dr. Vrushali Patwardhan from Novant Health Pediatrics Lake Norman will discuss long-term benefits for establishing healthy eating habits for children. Participants will learn tips on dealing with picky eaters and how to make mealtimes fun as well as what nutrients are most important at different stages.
Programs are held at Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center Ground floor Physicians’ Plaza Teleconference rooms, 10030 Gilead Road, Huntersville. Light dinner will be served, but registration is required by emailing L.firstname.lastname@example.org.
In preparation for the event, Patwardhan discussed what parents and guardians should start thinking about when it comes to youth nutrition.
Herald Citizen: When is a good time to start thinking about child nutrition?
Vrushali Patwardhan: We should actually start thinking about nutrition as soon as our baby is born. We decide if we will breastfeed or not, should we add formula to the mix? If yes, then what kind? So nutrition starts at birth and gets more complex as a child starts eating solids.
HC: Is there a definition or ideal healthy diet for kids?
VP: The ideal diet for any age is a balanced diet, but we all live in a more practical world. That is especially true for kids. As the mom of two, I can tell you that very few kids follow textbook recommendations. So I have changed my expectations. Having healthy eating habits in childhood is more important, but what does that mean? Children should be able to recognize when they are hungry and when they are full. This feels like an obvious statement, but this actually takes some effort as they tend to work with instincts rather than facts. Children should eat food in proportion (eat more healthy growing food, less junk food) and try a variety of food. To achieve this we need to have long-term goals and not a short-term nutritious meal outlook.
HC: What are the most important things people should be paying attention to when looking at food labels?
VP: The food industry can be sneaky in adding salt and extra sugar in food. This makes us like certain brands or foods. They are not mandated by FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) to declare any added sugars in food. So be sure to look for added sugars, especially for things like veggie pouches, pre-packed lunches and snacks.
HC: What are types of kid-friendly foods that are ideal to pack in lunchboxes?
VP: Growing foods that occur in nature are best for kids and adults. Lot of recipes are available online for healthy lunch ideas if you can plan ahead or have some time to prepare. If not, reading labels before buying is essential to picking healthier lunches. By one estimate: 70 percent of child-friendly food have too much sugar, 23 percent have too much fat (and) 17 percent have too much salt. It’s easy for kids to develop a liking toward intensely flavored foods. Who wants to eat a celery stick or an apple after that?
HC: What do you do if children turn their noses to different fruits or vegetables?
VP: Do not force kids to eat any food at any time (directly or indirectly). You are bound to lose this battle frequently. Don’t bribe them with other more interesting food. Instead, give them a couple of reasonable choices. One thing to remember is that when most kids say, “I don’t like apples,” they really mean, “I don’t like apples right now.”
HC: What are other ways to prevent/stop picky eating?
VP: Most kids are picky at various stages of development, especially around 2 years of age. We should accept that. Children need relaxed, non-pressured structure to learn the art of eating healthy. Rules like eating at specific times teach them about not snacking throughout the day. But then balance this with limited freedom to choose from a couple of food groups during these times. Try to remember that as parents, we get to choose what, where and when our children eat, and children get to choose how much to eat. One of the worst things that parents can do is to bargain with the amount or type of food.
HC: If obesity or being overweight is already a concern, what should parents do?
VP: Whether a child is overweight or underweight, the principle is the same: we need to teach our kids healthy eating habits rather than focusing on a single nutritious meal.
HC: How should parents approach the conversation with their children?
VP: Early conversations are important to teach kids about anything including healthy eating. If you are going to make changes to their eating patterns and habits, give them concrete instructions, otherwise your system seems arbitrary to them.
HC: What are resources people should use?
VP: There are lot of books available for kid’s nutritional advice. Two books I liked the best are, “It’s Not about the Broccoli” and “Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense.” Remember, patience and expecting slow improvement are important. We are running a marathon here – not a sprint!
HC: Anything else people should know?
VP: In short, we should focus less on every day nutrition and focus more on teaching healthy eating habits. If we start during infancy and persist throughout preschool and the elementary school years with this same message, we end up raising kids who like eating vegetables, fruits and whole wheat pasta. Just like we teach our kids good manners and good hygiene, healthy eating habits should also be ingrained in a child’s everyday life.