Greenpoint has worked with children health experts to produce the perfect pack to stimulate, educate and inspire long lasting, good habits. Don't worry, it's all fun for kiddies, we don't want it to feel like school stuff! It's all about getting dirty, and experiencing the magic of nature.
Greenpoint asked Marisa Nastasi, Paediatric Dietitian what the research says about good food habits and kiddies getting their fingers in the dirt. Here's what she found...
Nutrition guidelines: what is recommended for children?
Childhood is an important time for healthy development, learning, and establishing the foundations for future wellbeing. A child’s health is largely determined by the food they eat from the moment they are born (and even before this). Lifelong food habits are often developed from a tender young age. Therefore, it is important that all children are exposed to a wide variety of healthy foods from the moment they commence solids. As they grow and develop, they will become a little more discerning of the foods they wish to eat, however, providing healthy options, will help pave the way to a happy and healthy future.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines promote that children consume:
A wide variety of fruits, vegetables and legumes this includes at least 2 serves of fruit and 3 serves of vegetables per day
Wholegrain breads and cereals
Lean meats and meat alternatives (eggs, tofu, legumes, nuts)
No added sugar, salt and limited intake of bad fats (also called saturated fats found mostly in fast foods, sweets and animal products)
Whilst this all sounds logical in theory, the art of getting your toddler or even teenager to eat all these foods can be a big challenge.
Food consumption in young children: what are they eating?
Worryingly, new data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that between 2017-2018, only 4.4% of Australian children aged 5-14 years ate enough vegetables, which was only a slight increase from the last reported figures in 2014-2015 (2.9%). This means only 4.4 children for every 100 children were eating 5 serves of vegetables per day.
In a large study conducted in children in Victoria, Australia, it found that by three and a half years of age, discretionary foods were providing on average more than a quarter of a child's total energy intake - a staggering 235 percent of the recommended upper limit and reaffirmed that the number of children eating enough vegetables dropped substantially to less than 10 per cent by 18 months and stayed low after that.
So why do we care so much about a child eating well?
Good nutrition helps support crucial growth and development. This includes brain development which supports a child’s ability to learn and play
A healthy diet has been shown to support a child’s mental health. Children who eat more processed and fast foods have a higher association with mental illness and altered behaviour
A broad range of foods which includes vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, dairy and meats can help to reduce the risk of becoming obese and developing chronic disease which include diabetes and heart disease.
So, if your child is not currently eating many fruits and veggies, or a balanced healthy diet, there are some ways to help encourage this intake, even for the fussiest child!
Changing food behaviour- what does the research tell us?
Naturally, within the home environment, parents influence their children's dietary intakes through their parenting and dietary practices, and the foods they make available/accessible. As children grow, they are exposed to other influences through various institutions such as pre-school and school, peers and product marketing.
In a recent study looking at children’s food behaviours, it found that children whose parents had lower vegetable consumption were 59% less likely to eat vegetables daily. Furthermore, children’s intake of fruits and vegetables in the home is positively associated with availability and accessibility of these foods. It further reports that high snack consumption and increased television/screen time viewing were associated with poor vegetable intake. These findings may not be a surprise to many parents but what can be done to prevent or reverse these behaviours before they become deeply engrained?
In a study looking at family food involvement in young children at 3 and 4 years old, it found involving the entire family including children in activities such as cooking and preparing foods was predictive of healthier dietary intake (increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, decreased consumption of fast food).
Further to this, it has been well researched and documented through many initiatives that teaching children to grow, harvest, prepare and share their own fruit and vegetables is proven to have a positive impact on the food choices they make. Interventions that target children's vegetable intake in the home or community settings are generally effective and may potentially increase intake by around 30%.
One of the most widespread gardening and food education programs implemented amongst school aged children is the Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Program which prides itself on the educating children on the value of growing fruit and vegetables and how this translates to changed behaviour and healthy life. This program has been evaluated through various research efforts to support the notion that improved food behaviour can be achieved if children engage in the following:
Cooking and recipe classes
Nutrition education programs
Learning to grow fresh produce is the first step towards healthy habits. Cooking and preparing delicious meals can be fun for the whole family. So, with this is mind, why not adopt a new way of exposing your children to fruit and vegetables from a young age. Start with gardening – planting and growing different products so your children can appreciate the origins of growth. Then consider getting the kids in the kitchen by using the ingredients fresh from the garden.
This will help them to better connect with the way fresh produce is grown and prepared and is likely to have positive impacts on their preference and acceptance of fruit and especially veggies, to help promote a healthier life!
Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD)