“Eating healthy” may mean something different to everyone. Generally, when we say, eating healthy, it refers to getting the right amount of calories, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients into our body. No matter your eating preferences, one of the best ways to ensure this is to add foods like fruits and vegetables to the daily diet. Both are not only high in such nutrients but also offer an array of phytochemicals) which benefit our health and foster disease prevention (more on those to come).
With children, especially those who are “picky eaters,” it is a task to get them to eat right. And this could be particularly challenging when trying to add new and more nutritious offerings. Research suggests that children need between 8 to 15 exposures to a new food just to enhance the acceptance for that particular food. This could mean the child knowing by looking, or touching and feeling a fruit or vegetable, experiencing it in the form of different textures, variations in taste and so on. Following that, there must be roughly about 40 successful attempts at tasting the actual fruit or vegetable to develop the taste for liking. It may seem tough when we quantify it like that, but it's easier once we allow our little ones to actually explore the food before “‘stuffing mouthfuls”’ to our own satisfaction.
Healthy Eating with Colors in Mind
Enter the rainbow. Famous for its unique colors, the sight brings joy to the young and old, alike. The initiative “Did your child eat a rainbow today?” is gaining popularity in countries across the globe and is designed to help parents and educators encourage children to adopt healthy eating choices from an early age. The colors are connected to the phytochemicals (mentioned earlier). These are typically found in almost all plant based food, subhanAllah, and are beneficial in the following ways:
- Aid the function of the immune system
- Help reduce inflammation
- Regulate hormonal activity
- Protect cells and DNA from damage, which may possibly lead to cancer and/or cardiovascular diseases
- Prevent cellular systems from oxidative damage resulting in chronic illnesses
It is daunting to know that not only are the colors of these plant based foods beneficial to our health, but Allah has also created them for us with a very well thought plan. Ever likened the anatomy of a sliced carrot to the iris of the human eye? We’ve all heard that carrots are good for the eyes, without as much as understanding its anatomy and relevance to scientific notation. There are other visual connections we can explore with our children including walnuts for the brain, kidney beans for the kidneys, citrus fruit for the skin, and more.
Parents need to inculcate healthy eating habits into their daily routine. With the increasing demand for quick foods and ready-made meals we are left at our own discretion to make informed decisions to yield sustainable results. It comes as no surprise to see the reason for the alarming increase in early signs of diabetes, high cholesterol levels, obesity and many other chronic illnesses. This is exactly why we should encourage children to eat healthy from a young age.
6 Ways to Make Healthy Eating FUN!
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring or a burden. It can even be fun! Here are six suggestions to try at home.
1. Involve them.
As much as you can, try to get your child involved in the process of choosing their favorite fruits and vegetables (for a start). Get them to help with the cutting, chopping, and peeling. You would be surprised how much they will enjoy it, boys and girls alike! And finally, let them determine how they are served.
2. Play the mystery game.
Make tasting a game. Use a blind fold and get your child to guess the name of the fruit or vegetable. This is great when trying something new. Parents can also play along.
3. Be a role model.
Children eat healthy when they see you eating healthy. Genetics can also play a large role in determining liking and/or disliking of particular foods. Your children can also be a big source of motivation for you in terms of changing your old habits into newer and healthier ones. If you are weak in this area, bring in reinforcements with friends or relatives to help you develop the habit of eating healthy consciously.
4. Add some creativity.
Ditch the cake and go for a customized fruit platter. We decided to do that for my son’s birthday celebration at school. It was a big hit! Not only did it reinforce the idea of healthy eating, but also other concepts like sharing (when the birthday boy went around offering his friends a fruit skewer) and pattern recognition (through sequential arrangement of the fruit on each skewer).
5. Explore the science.
You can easily incorporate a science lesson into anything that relates to food or food preparation techniques. And there are tons of videos to help. Ever follow the life cycle of a seed to a tree? How about the importance of bees in the pollination of all our fruits and veggies? Did you ever think about baking cookies as a chemistry experiment? Thinking along these lines, every meal can be a science lesson and make a connection to the bounties that Allah has provided in our food!
6. Educate about Islamic food etiquettes.
Every time we talk about food and eating, we need to also include guidance about Islamic etiquettes and details from the Quran and Sunnah (the sayings and actions of our Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him). Encourage children to learn the duaas to recite before and after eating and make it a practice to say them together. You can also make posters or placements for reference. Be sure to talk about halal ingredients and how to be careful to avoid foods that are considered haram.
Good food and healthy eating are essentials of daily life. Parents have a primary responsibility to be informed and attentive to their responsibility to support good choices and habits in the home. They also need to provide specific and practical guidance to their children so that when they are outside of the home, they can also be conscious and proactive for themselves. Schools can also play a vital role in offering nutritional education and reinforcing healthy eating practices. Partnership and consistency are the keys to help foster efficacious eating habits.
Umm Ahmed is an early childhood educator and writer who is passionate about seeking knowledge and passing it onto others. She and her husband are parents to three boys and are currently living in Abu Dhabi.