On average, school going children in Kenya are from the age of three years to eighteen years. When we were growing up, we learnt to eat what was served before us without so much as a whimper!
It did not matter whether it was repeated five times that week or whether it was a balanced diet. Well, we are here but that does not mean that not giving your children proper nutrition is something to be encouraged.
Lack of proper nutrition can lead to children having medical conditions such as marasmus, kwashiorkor, stunted growth and so on. You do not have to worry if you are not good at coming up with proper and nutritious meals for your family, Afromum.com had a chat with celebrated nutritionist Mercy Lunga’ho who shed light on matters proper nutrition.
According to Ms. Lunga’ho, the best meals for school going children should be balanced and parents should avoid the trap of packing processed food all the time by training their children to eat healthy meals right from the onset.
“You cannot keep feeding a child sausages on a daily basis and then change suddenly to arrow roots and sweet potatoes when they go to school. Sausages are not bad but should be done in moderation. Consider also the children’s preferences and capitalize on their healthy choices. There’s a child who hated school food and preferred packed food because she loved beans and not meat. It ended up being a healthy and cheaper alternative to the parents,” said Ms. Lunga’ho
One of the problems that make it difficult for parents to feed their children properly is the fact that they cannot afford some foods, so they just feed their children whatever they can get. On this, the nutritionist says that careful planning of the meals can have you put a balanced diet on the table.
“Think about the foods that are in season and are affordable then plan your meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner accordingly. It is important to appreciate less expensive foods – you may want to have sausage for a meal but can afford matumbo. Enjoy this nutritious delicacy,” said Mercy
“Cooking at home is more likely cheaper than eating out. Urban farming in Kenya has evolved into convenient ways to grow your own food. Think outside the box and be an urban farmer. Lastly, lunches can drain an already dry wallet. Cook at home and carry your own healthy lunch. You will save money and improve your nutrition at the same time,” said the nutritionist.
For other people, the problem could be lack of creativity in coming up with a proper timetable for proper meals in the house.
“Planning a timetable requires dedication and commitment. Plan for healthy meals, carbohydrates, proteins, fruits and vegetables, dairy at least once a day. If you cannot afford 3 meals a day, you can try and get all these nutrients from 2 meals a day, say breakfast of dairy and starch, a fruit for a snack and late lunch/early dinner with protein and vegetables,” said Ms. Lunga’ho.
Mercy added that porridge is sometimes a more nutritious breakfast as compared to just having tea and bread, especially if the flour is fortified with vitamins and minerals. A banana makes a cheap and healthy snack or accompaniment, she added.
While having the best intentions when it comes to feeding, some parents find themselves at a loss because their children are obese and may not want to make the situation worse.
“For kids with obesity, get to know the root cause. Sometimes it is because of lack of activity, other times it is because of unhealthy choices. It could also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. It is encouraged to combine a changed diet with exercise. Ensure the child plays more often, but also limit the portions of meals and choose healthy meals.”
“Having more protein than starch in their diet, for instance, will lower their daily caloric intake and help them begin a weight loss diet. Again, to avoid this scenario, vary a child’s diet right from start. Let them have very little if any, soft drinks and processed foods. Let children learn that healthy is also delicious, so that unhealthy is an exception and not the norm,” said the nutritionist.
While some parents are grappling with children who are obesity, some parents are quite concerned with their children who are underweight.
For underweight kids, there is need to also check for the root cause, to rule out medical conditions and know how to treat the child. Encourage the child to eat well and enforce specific meal times, so that it becomes normal to eat a regular meal. Other than that, capitalize on snacks in between meals and healthy favorites, but make sure the child eats a balanced diet
Some foods like porridge and fruits are known to help increase appetite, so do a lot of that if appetite is the issue.