#Healthweek: Building healthy eating habits in children starts at home

Most West Indians could probably remember a time when their parents warned them to make sure they ate all the food or they would be punished or bribed with a drink or dessert if they swept the plates away.

Although their parents’ intentions may come from a good position, such actions are harmful because they teach children to have misconceptions about food that could lead to poor eating habits and health problems such as obesity.

Christeena Johnson-Harvey, a Registered dietitian with the Jamaica-based organizationCaribbean Tots to Teens, said children should never be forced to clean dishes or eat when they are not hungry.

He said bribing children only reinforces the idea that the actual meal isn’t something they should want to eat.

“We are telling them that you cannot eat it until you eat it because it is a reward. If the meal is a vegetable, then they might say that something is wrong with that vegetable, it’s a punishment, I have to be rewarded for eating this thing, “she explained.

Caribbean Tots to Teens is JAmaica’s first wellness center for children and adolescents with the mission of optimizing youth development and family life. Johnson-Harvey works with teens and adolescents by providing nutrition counseling and education.

Much of her philosophy regarding infant nutrition comes from the respected dietician and therapist, Ellyn Satter, who includes Satter’s theory of the division of responsibility in nutrition.

Harvey believes that all children are born to be intuitive eaters and can successfully self-regulate their food intake in order to feed their bodies (which includes listening for hunger signals) with the guidance and positive role model of their parents. She is confident that good habits build over time and that children can learn to accept new foods with continuous exposure and patience.

Christeena Johnson-Harvey

Speaking about the rise in obesity rates in children and the factors that lead to poor nutrition, she said it starts at home.

“If we are not making healthier choices as adults in terms of diet and lifestyle, chances are our children will participate in the same thing, they will think it is normal and there is no problem if I do the same. It’s hard to talk to them and say to do the opposite, it seems self-righteous, so they need that support, “she said.

Another important factor, he said, is the increasing availability and accessibility of ultra-processed foods that are energy-based and low in nutrients.

“For the amount you eat, you get a lot of energy but not a lot of variety and nutrient density. And it is those types of food that children eat the most but decreasing their intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes and water. Just realizing that we’re not getting a lot of variety in our diets is helpful because that means we don’t cook for ourselves much less than our kids, “she explained.

He said biological factors and genetics also play a role in a child’s health.

Johnson-Harvey advised that if parents are having trouble raising their children, they should take them to a doctor who would recommend next steps if a problem is detected.

At home, she said, addressing weight problems in children means building lifelong habits instead of putting the child on a diet. It is important to involve the whole family to support the child.

“Coping with weight problems in children means you have to build lifelong habits without dieting. They need to see an example set at home and not just with parents, but siblings as well. The whole family needs to be. involved. The child may be bullied or other forms of discrimination outside the home, so he should not expect it at home. I find that children who have support, who have parents on board with a positive outlook, are more likely to being more successful with changes and being resilient in dealing with problems or if setbacks occur they can solve problems and achieve even more success, “he said.

When asked how parents can instill good eating habits in their children and the ideal age to do so, Johnson-Harvey said the process begins as early as six months, when babies are introduced to solid foods.

“You start off with some soft mashed fruit or vegetables, meat, fish and ground food, but many times we think we can give them cereal and porridge on their own and limit the variety. But they must learn that it is normal to eat a variety of foods, not just white ones. It is important for them to see the different colors and try out the different textures. It is important that they learn that it is okay to eat vegetables and it is a normal part of the meal, ”she advised.

“There are other ways to incorporate foods into our diets. Sometimes we have to take a step back and look at what we ate during the week, try to think of it this way, did we eat vegetables, did we eat yellow vegetables, did we eat red vegetables? If we don’t do this when they are finally introduced, it won’t be weird. Suddenly there is this green thing on my plate what am I doing? Parents must be the model ”.

She said proper eating habits also begin when babies are breast or bottle feeding.

He said: “They are also learning important eating skills because when they are full they turn their heads the other way and that means they don’t want to anymore but if you force the bottle into their mouth they are learning not to trust their hunger and satiety cues. They are trying to please you. They must learn to eat when hunger is good and when they are full to stop ”.

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