Making sure your kids get a taste for the good life
Reality bites: Healthy eating habits start young. photograph: Getty Images
Author Anna Burns believes the obesity problem is all down to portion control.
A new book aims to help harried parents guide their children towards a future free of obesity, writes ARLENE HARRIS
Nutrition consultant Anna Burns has over 17 years’ experience in the field. And as a mother of four, she knows only too well what obstacles parents face in trying to get their children to eat well and get enough exercise.
Combining her professional and personal experience, the Cork woman has just published a book which she believes will help us beat our children’s battle of the bulge.
The Food Nanny promises to show parents how to correct poor eating habits, how to maintain a healthy eating policy at home and how to implement a few simple rules which will prevent a fat future for the next generation.
“With four children aged between four and 12, I deal daily with the constant bombardment of requests for sweets, treats and take-away foods which my kids see others indulging in,” she says.
“We are not a hessian-weave type of family that grows its own food, has a Jersey cow out the back and a coop full of chickens, nor do we indulge in cocoa-flavoured breakfast cereals or takeaway foods on a daily basis.
“Instead we fall between the two. My kids get plenty of chocolate and treat foods but they follow a routine and I have a strategy in place. Neurotic as this sounds; it means if they eat their vegetables and fruit, they are allowed to get treats. They get to eat dessert every day of the week (of an old-fashioned apples and custard type) and they go to kids’ birthday parties, eating normal quantities of junk foods without totally overdoing it.”
“I came up with the idea for my book as I sat on a rock in Fota Wildlife Park while my children were at an exhibit. I couldn’t help but notice how many overweight children passed me by and then my own kids appeared with fists full of chocolate.
“I was bamboozled at the quantity. Each had two or three bars and thought they had hit the jackpot when they were handed them at will (by a staff member) and told they could go back for more.
“The lack of any portion control really struck me at that moment, as we are in an environment where we currently clearly need one.”
At this moment, Burns realised that the problem of obesity in the younger generation was only going to get worse unless action was taken at home.
The biggest problem with childhood obesity, Burns says, is the frightening future it creates for our children: “We all think our kids are adorable – and they are. But we are currently killing them with kindness by not acknowledging their growing girth.
“We accept them at whatever weight in the misguided notion that they are simply suffering from ‘puppy fat’. We presume they will grow out of it, but they won’t as we are consistently overindulging them. We never say ‘No’ to their constant demands for food and as a result we are single-handedly shortening their lives.
“They will, as overweight and obese children, very likely grow up to be overweight and obese adults. They will, as a result, develop diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, suffer many side effects and die younger than they would have were they a healthy weight. The future for overweight kids in Ireland is bleak.”
So Burns put the wheels in motion for an easy-to-read guide which gives step-by-step practical advice and recipes which parents can use to help their children off the road to obesity.
“Our children are exposed to constant triggers about eating that we never had growing up, so while we might know what it is that they should be eating, and when and where, we feel it is no longer under our control entirely,” she says.
“But in actual fact 90 per cent of what our five to 12 year olds eat comes from the home, so we are totally in charge of how and what and where they eat – we simply don’t know that we are. My book is a 10-step guide to help you get your kids back on the straight and narrow of healthy balanced eating and forward to a fun and fit future.
“I feel it is our responsibility to feed our kids well and to teach them the language of good nutrition, because it is our fault if they don’t eat well.”
Food Nanny tips
The most basic step a parent can take now to tackle their family’s weight problem is to start saying “No” to untimely requests for food. If your child has eaten only some of their dinner and 10 minutes later is requesting something else to eat, the answer should be a resounding “No”.
The household mantra should be “eat only at the table” or “if your bum isn’t on a seat, you don’t eat”. If this were the only rule you were to adhere to as a parent, your children’s intake of poor quality, high sugar, salt and fat foods would instantly diminish.
We must endeavour to get our kids’ required one hour of activity into their day, every day of the week.
It is never too late to change. It is never too late to lose weight, either as an adult or as a child.
Do not weigh your kids. Do not involve them in their weight loss. Simply teach them the language of good food habits.
The Food Nanny is published by Gill and Macmillan €12.99