Children’s sports commitments, birthday parties and social gatherings often come in the way of healthy eating. A study on European school children found that the consumption of foods and drinks rich in added sugar were significantly higher on weekends compared with weekdays. This may be because weekend eating is less structured, as parents and children are relaxed, often not at home and more likely to grab convenience foods that are often not the healthiest options.
South African children’s unhealthy habits
Results from the Youth Behaviour Survey on the eating patterns of South African children are concerning. Four in 10 school-going children had eaten unhealthy foods in the four days before the survey took place. These unhealthy foods included cakes, biscuits, hamburgers, fried chicken, boerewors rolls, hot dogs, hot chips, pies, vetkoek and polony rolls. In addition, two in 10 children reported choosing the supersized options of their favourite take-away meals.
Why the results are worrying is that convenient snacks like crisps, chocolates and sugar-sweetened beverages are nutrient poor yet high in energy. So eating these foods leaves less room in a diet for foods that contain immune-boosting nutrients. Not eating enough of the right foods could lead to growth faltering – children may be short for their age, thin or bloated, listless, and have weakened immune systems.
Healthy handbag-friendly snacks
PediaSure suggests these nutritious snacks to have ready when you’re out and about with hungry kids:
Just as you would pack a school lunchbox during the week, pack a snack bag to travel with the family when you are out and about on weekends, so there will be no need to turn to, often unhealthy, convenience foods.
- Nuts and seeds are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats. Healthy fats are an important energy source for growth, vitamin transport and the manufacture of certain hormones in the body. As a guide, select about five nuts at a time or add one teaspoon of seeds to yoghurt or sprinkle over fresh fruit.
- Oat and chocolate-chip energy bites can be made ahead. Mix together 1 cup raw oats, ½ cup peanut butter, ½ cup chocolate chips and ⅓ cup honey. Roll the mixture into balls on a tray and freeze until set. Store in sealed bags.
- Popcorn is a firm favourite with children. Before you head out for your weekend activities, make popcorn and separate into containers for each child.
- Lean biltong is high in muscle-building protein for growing children. A deshelled boiled egg, stored in a container, can also be an easy-to-eat protein-rich snack.
- Roasted chickpeas make a great, tasty snack alternative to crisps and salted peanuts. Make a batch and store in a sealed container.
- Make a ham and cheese roll up by layering a slice of lean cold meat with a slice of cheese. Roll it up and insert a pretzel stick through the middle to hold the snack together.
Alarmingly, almost two in three children consume sugary drinks at least twice a week. On average, each sugary drink contains about eight teaspoons of added sugar.
- Remember to take a water bottle of at least 500ml with you on all family outings (one bottle per family member). In the summer months, freeze the water overnight to always have cool water on hand.
- Add chopped fruit, such as berries or apples, or herbs, such as mint, to the water to infuse and add flavour.
- Make homemade iced tea using Rooibos tea or your favourite herbal tea flavour. Store it in bottles to take with you when the family is out of the house.
Include these superfoods
Fruit and vegetables are nature’s jewels. Only five in 10 children in South Africa consume at least one serving of fruit and only four in 10 eat at least one cup of cooked vegetables a day. Fruit and vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients and fibre. These foods are also convenient options for children and families on the go.
- Cut vegetables into sticks to dip in cottage cheese, peanut butter or hummus. Whole small vegetables like baby marrow, baby tomatoes or baby carrots also work well.
- Whole pieces of fresh fruit pack well into handbags, but opt for firmer fruits like apples to avoid bruising. You can also place softer fruit like berries and kiwi in a container to prevent the fruit from getting damaged.
- Make a fruit smoothie by blending fruit and PediaSure Complete.
Visit abbottnutrition.co.za for more information on PediaSure Complete.