Parents need to foster, not force, good food habits in kids

Helen O’Callaghan hears parents need to act on their concerns.

Parents need to foster, not force, good food habits in kids

With new research finding one in three Irish mums concerned about their children’s diets, it’s time to turn those concerns into action and make changes on the weekly shopping trip.

So says nutritional therapist Ciara Ryan, after a survey by parenting community found nearly a quarter of parents are concerned their child isn’t eating enough fruit, 43% are worried s/he isn’t eating enough vegetables and 54% reported s/he doesn’t eat enough fish.

Parents are key influencers in helping kids set up healthy eating habits, but they need to educate themselves about what their child should and shouldn’t be eating.

The current survey found 80% of moms don’t know how much fat their child should consume daily, 66% don’t know the recommended daily allowance of sugar and 70% don’t know how much salt their child should have.

Food Safety Authority of Ireland guidelines for child fat consumption say moderately active five to 13-year-olds should consume 25-35% of their energy intake from fats. Quality of fats is very important, says Ryan.

“Trans or hydrogenated fats found in deep fried and some processed foods are a big no-no. Omega 3 fatty acids — in oily fish, seeds, and avocado — are health-promoting fats and needed by all, particularly children, for everything from brain health to a well-functioning immune system.”

Ryan says four to eight-year-olds, with intake of approximately 1,600 calories daily, should consume no more than three teaspoons of added sugar a day. Pre-teens and teenagers can increase this to about five teaspoons.

“The best way of reducing salt intake is to reduce processed food. And check salt and sodium content on labels — food is high in salt if it contains 0.5g sodium/1.5g salt per 100g.”

With 44% of moms saying their children were eating too many treats — 22% reported their child consumed fruit juice/cordial daily — Ryan urges limiting junk foods and not using sugar to soothe.

“There’s a tendency to use junk food as treat or reward. If a child hurts himself, parents often offer a biscuit to help him stop crying.”

She urges parents to avoid such habit. Others are labelling children fussy eaters (“they may feel they have to live up to that”) or making them finish everything on their plate.

This can lead to over-eating; and stressful meal times. Instead, foster good food habits — eat together as a family and explain how healthy food helps the body.


* Wean child off cordials/ fruit juices. Even sugar free ones have artificial sweeteners/ingredients. Options: water with dash of orange juice or infused with citrus slices or mint leaves.

* If child refuses a food, be patient. Put small amount on plate.

* Increase veg intake: blend extra vegetables into tomato sauce, add cooked cauliflower into mash for topping shepherd’s pie, grate courgette/sweet potato into homemade burgers.

* Tips by Ciara Ryan

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