10 Healthy Eating Habits for Children by Akshaya Patra

National Nutrition Week has ended on the 2nd week of September. Before we can wrap up our series on Nutrition, we would like to talk about ten healthy eating habits that must be inculcated among children.

Dictionaries define nutrition as “the process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth.” Unfortunately obtaining food for health and nutrition worldwide has proved to be tougher challenge than it was perceived. Providing healthy food for children is a concern that transcends geographical boundaries. Fresh and healthy food is a basic right of every child, and there is a need to make sure that they get it every day.

healthy-eating-habits

  1. Balanced diet

Children need to be taught early that nothing is tastier than a complete nutritious meal. One of the objectives of mid-day meal at Akshaya Patra is to provide a balanced diet to the children as a healthy eating habit.

  1. Praying before eating

We count it as a healthy eating habit. Akshaya Patra wishes to educate children apart from feeding them. One of our practices is to ensure that the children say their prayers before starting to eat food. This helps them realise the value of food and that they should be thankful to the Almighty for providing them with food.

  1. Eating together

Families must eat together at home and friends must have lunch together at school. There’s nothing more joyous than enjoying a great meal together, discussing about taste and favourite foods. At Akshaya Patra, eating together fulfills our objective of supplying mid-day meal in a healthy environment.

  1. Eating slowly

It’s vital to have the habit of eating slowly as it helps in controlling weight. This ensures that they chew their food properly leading to better digestion. Eating fast causes obesity. Studies have shown that nearly 60 percent of overweight children aged 5 to 17 had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease and 25 percent had two or more. Also, obese kids have an 80 percent chance of staying obese their entire lives.

  1. Attractive foods

Another healthy eating habit is to include colourful foods, vegetables and fruits in children’s meals. This encourages children to enjoy food and look forward to meals.  At Akshaya Patra, we prepare a variety of food for children to ensure that they really enjoy the experience of having mid-day meal at school.

  1. Water instead of concentrated drinks

In modern day meals, we have got into the habit of consuming concentrated juices or cold drinks or soda instead of water. While fresh juices do have some merit, most preserved juices have more calories than we know.  But water should be the choice during meals for children since it boosts immune system and digestion.

  1. Learning when to stop

Another healthy food habit is knowing when your stomach is full. Toddlers and younger kids find it hard to understand the signals that their stomach sends to their brain. Children should be taught signs of fullness clearly from the time they learn to eat their own food.

  1. Healthier snacks

Today, there are several varieties of snacks available for children, many of which are not healthy. Snacks such as fried foods, packaged foods, noodles, potato chips etc are readily available but are far from healthy. As a healthy eating habit, children must be taught to consume fruits, juices, nuts etc. as alternative snacks.

  1. Less sugar and salt

At Akshaya Patra, the amount of sugar and sweets is an important parameter of a nutritious diet. While we always send extra salts with our transport vans, we teach the children to avoid using too much salt and sugar in their meals. Salt and sugar are the leading causes of heart-related diseases as adults and must be cut down right from the childhood.

  1. Discouraging eating meals before TV

Eating dinner or lunch before television is a common practice among modern families. However, this kills the joy of eating and distracts children from truly savouring their meals. Children often complain of hunger afterwards if they have consumed their meals while watching TV.

There are millions of children still who don’t get healthy food. They need to be reached and fed. We encourage you to donate to NGO towards unlimited food for education so that we are able to take our mid-day meals to more and more children.

World Health Day: Children Health and Mid-day Meals

world health day

The World Health Organisation (WHO)—a UN agency concerned with public health at the international level—was founded on 7th April, 1948. In order to commemorate its founding, it was decided to observe 7th April as the World Health Day. While the WHO uses the day to spread awareness about some health issue of major importance, the same is also used by various organisations working in the field of public health to draw people’s attention to issues of concern and put forth some solutions. In India, hunger and malnutrition are two such issues, and the Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDMS) is one of the solutions.

On 28th November, 2001, the Supreme Court of India directed the State Governments “to implement the Mid-Day Meal Scheme by providing every child in every Government and Government-aided primary school with a prepared mid-day meal with a minimum content of 300 calories and 8-12 g of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days.” The stipulated nutritional content has since been raised to 450 calories and 12 g protein for children in primary schools and 700 calories and 20 g protein for children in upper-primary schools.

Mid-day Meal and Children’s Health

In a country where malnutrition is rampant, 450 calories a day come as a blessing in disguise; all the more so because at times this is the lone meal many of these children afford. If malnutrition levels in India have dropped from 42.5% in 2005-06 to 30% in 2013-14, it’s partly because of feeding initiatives like the MDMS and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).

Mid-day meal guidelines also state that the meals served should supply micronutrients like iron, zinc, folic acid, vitamin A, etc., to the beneficiaries, thus making it a wholesome meal necessary for proper growth. It’s important to provide nutrient-rich healthy food to children, as the lack of these nutrients can result in problems like stunting (low height-for-age) and wasting (low weight-for-age).

The meals are prepared after taking specific guidelines into consideration to make sure that children get necessary nutrients. In some states, a list of recipes is provided and the schools are expected to pick one every day, whilst being careful not to repeat it that week. In some states, the vegetables used to prepare meals are repeated on a daily basis.

School teachers are testimony to the change the MDM programme has brought about, especially in the context of children’s health. Earlier, many children used to reach school on an empty stomach; at times, even having missed their previous night’s dinner. As a result, it was difficult for them to concentrate on what they were being taught in school. Since the implementation of MDMS, students are faring better in academics as their concentration has improved.

Lack of a nutritious meal on a daily basis made children weak and thus, prone to missing school. The improvement in nutrition levels of children because of MDMS has translated into reduced absenteeism and dropout rates. With examples like these, it’s but obvious that the mid-day meal is of utmost importance for these people.

Good Hygiene – Sound Health

mid day meal

Mid-day meals are not just directly contributing to the health and nutrition of children, but also helping indirectly by inculcating good habits in them. According to the new MDM guidelines, it’s mandatory for all schools serving mid-day meals to allocate hand washing time as a part of the school timetable in order to ensure that children wash their hands with soap both, before and after their meal. Hand washing is a hygienic practice which helps keep several diseases at bay. Studies reveal that washing hands with soap reduces the likelihood of diarrhoea by a whopping 48 percent.

The best part is that the MDMS is having a positive impact on both, health and education sectors. In the education sector, it acts as a perfect incentive to bring children to school. In fact, there are cases where school-going children are accompanied by their younger siblings for that one nutritious meal. It’s worth noting that the Public-private Partnership with Non-Governmental Organisations, like the Akshaya Patra Foundation, is helping the State Governments to feed hungry children across the country.

At the end of the day, it’s safe to say that it’s because of the MDMS that children, who would have otherwise been working to support their family, can now have a nutritious meal … and dare to pursue their dreams. So why not use this World Health Day to further the cause and help the concerned agencies to reach more children.

Read on the eve of World Health Day, how Akshaya Patra is addressing malnutrition at: blog.akshayapatra.org/world-health-day


 

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