As promised last week, let’s talk kids. A lot of us have them, teach them, spend time avoiding them; whatever category you fit into – they’re everywhere, and, just like the rest of the population, they have specific health and nutrition needs.
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First on the list is the question I’m asked the most often…how much sleep does my child need? According to the National Sleep Foundation your new borns (0 – 3 months) need fourteen to seventeen hours; infants (4 – 11 months) twelve to fifteen hours; toddlers (1 – 2 years) eleven to fourteen hours; pre-schoolers (3 – 5 years) ten to thirteen hours; school aged children (6 – 13 years) nine to eleven hours; teenagers (14 – 17 years) eight to ten hours and young adults (18 – 25 years) seven to nine hours. These are general guidelines and it’s important to remember our children, like us older folk, are individuals and they may fall outside of these recommendations. For example, my six year old daughter rarely sleeps the recommended nine hours, and my four year old son would happily sleep all day if allowed. Each child is different, so if yours doesn’t fall in line with the above guidelines I wouldn’t be too concerned; if you are worried, talk it through with your paediatrician.
Now onto food. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the ‘five a day’ saying when it comes to fruit and vegetable intake. The World Health Organisation says five portions of fruit and vegetables are enough, but it’s useful to note here that those guidelines are twenty five years old. Most doctors and nutritionists would agree that five portions are enough to get the protective benefits from fruit and veg, but they would also generally agree that more is better. For adults I agree with the Australian guidelines of seven per day (five veg, two fruit), and when they hit age 9, this can be applied to children as well. Having reviewed guidelines from several countries, Australia remains my go to for sensible food recommendations (for the record, I’m not Australian so it’s not a biased view). The general guidelines can be found here, and the child specific guidelines on nutrients and portion sizes can be found here.
The main things we need to be concerned about are balance, variety, hydration and awareness. I doubt we will find any child who has the ‘perfect’ diet. Who could even tell us what perfect is anyway? The important things are to get good, nutritious food into them; which means checking ingredients for hidden sugars and additives they don’t need; making sure they’re hydrated and making sure their meals and snacks are varied and full of good things. I’m not saying never give treats, that would be unrealistic, but simple choices can go a long way – lots of fruit and vegetables can be hidden in smoothies for picky eaters, the same stands for soups, stews and casseroles. I also know that no two kids respond to the same food in the same way – in our house we have one who really doesn’t care much for sugar, sweets or chocolate and another who jumps at every opportunity for sweet treats. How do I balance it? Well they have baked treats that are sweetened by apple sauce, bananas and sometimes honey, that also hide a lot of veggies. If they want juice (which is rare) it’s made at home rather than bought in cartons to avoid hidden sugars that they just don’t need. When they think they’re drinking soda, it’s actually sparkling water with some flavour.
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Time. Yes it’s difficult isn’t it? Finding the time to make all of these great choices can be a challenge, so be economic with the time you have. Planning your week’s meals in advance is a great idea, then giving yourself a prep day (or a few hours) on the weekend can cut your weekday work in half. I bake our bread at home, which is made easy and quick by the bread maker I bought a few years ago; I load the ingredients, set the programme and timer and the next morning there’s a fresh loaf ready and waiting. I also love slow cookers, as you can cook almost anything in them; throw in the ingredients, set it on low and leave your food to cook while you’re busy doing other things. In our house we are big on cooking from scratch and do our best to stay away from packaged and processed food, but we’re also big on making life as easy for ourselves as possible. Yes, we want good, nutritious meals, but we don’t want cooking dinner to be an exhausting experience either, so we plan our week, shop for what we need, prep it on the weekend and make things quick and easy by using our slow cooker, steamer and other time saving handy things we have filling our cupboards (rice cooker, bread machine, dehydrator, juicer, blender etc.). If you don’t know where to start, thiswebsite has fantastic recipes and meal plans to get you going, and some fabulous treat recipes that include lots of hidden veggies your kids will never know about.
Exercise. This is a big one. Children need to be active. They are not built to sit still for long periods of time. Screens shouldn’t be used for unrestricted amounts of time – an hour is more than enough and this should never be before bedtime. They need to move and be outside; of course being in Kuwait, this isn’t always easy due to the weather or areas we live in, but there are options here. Swimming is a great way to get your little ones active; the beach is a great place to walk and play games; lots of areas have parks with play equipment; most malls have soft play areas that aren’t too expensive. There are more costly options like health clubs, but if you’re living on a budget (like so many of us are), there are a lot of options out there. Some are harder to find than others, so why not group together and make it fun – mums with young ones, why not create a walking group and meet every few days to take your little ones for a stroll? Park play dates are always fun. If your budget really doesn’t allow trips to the play areas found in malls, group together and contact them asking for group discounts. Most public beaches here are clean enough to go for walks and play games on, and there are water parks and pools open to the public that are not very expensive. For those who have children in schools, find out what their daily activity level is – are they active? How often throughout the day? Most schools run after school clubs and activities that can increase their activity time, so that’s always worth asking about. Swimming clubs, dance classes, gymnastics classes, sports teams and clubs – there is a lot more going on in Kuwait than we often realise, and, I know some of these options are costly, but we’re all human and I know from experience, when you speak with the organisers and explain your inability to pay in large lump sums, they will quite often be willing to agree on a payment schedule you can manage.
Simple rules to get you started: include fruit and veg of different colours in your meals; hydrate with drinks that are NOT full of hidden sugars; if you’re buying packaged foods, check ingredients – more than five, you may want to stay away; children are growing, don’t cut food groups in efforts to keep them healthy or lose weight – if your child is overweight and you’re concerned, please consult a doctor or dietician/nutritionist who can help you meet their nutritional needs in a safe way. Teach your children how to make good choices, and PLEASE teach them the word ‘diet’ means how we eat generally, not what we are depriving ourselves of in order to look a certain way; in my practice and also in my classroom (in previous years) I cannot tell you how disheartening it is to be asked by a seven year old girl how she can make her legs thinner, or sit next to a thirteen year old whose mother has told her she should cut her carb intake to lose weight. Children are growing; physically, mentally, emotionally, in every possible way, they are growing and what you say to and around them has a lasting impact – no child should be listening to you talk about how you can eat a loaf of bread on Friday because you’ve starved yourself all week, that’s not a burden they need to be carrying. Remember in their eyes, you’re a superhero; they don’t care what your beach body looks like, they care that you’re there splashing around and having fun with them. Please be mindful of what you are saying around them, believe me, they ARE listening.
I’m not suggesting you ditch all treats and become a supercook overnight. We all have days where life just gets in the way and Talabat is how we roll. Don’t beat yourself up over it, do what you need to do to keep yourself and your family functioning; just make the best choices you can in the moment. Have healthy snacks ready at home to grab when you know you have a busy day ahead. For those with older children, get them involved in food prep – I have a friend with four children who each get to choose one family dinner per week, which they then help prepare and cook and they all love it. What I’m basically saying is the planning, shopping, preparation and cooking for the whole household does not need not fall solely to one person (unless that’s how you like it of course), share the load and get your children involved – you’ll probably learn a lot more about the day your kids have had when you get them chopping veggies (boys especially talk more when they’re engaged in a task). Meal time can be a great family bonding experience and healthy food doesn’t need to be something our young people are groaning about.
Enjoy browsing the websites I’ve included…until next time.
Health Coach & Nutritional Therapist
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