Nutrition can be an anxious subject for some parents. You may worry about whether your children are eating enough good food. Or you may wonder whether they are overeating or becoming unhealthy. The following guidelines and tools may help ease your anxiety.



Children go through growth and activity spurts so sometimes they are really hungry and sometimes they eat like a bird. As long as you offer nutritious food, you can trust your child’s appetite to get the balance right. Forcing children to eat (even strong encouragement to eat more) can often backfire. It helps to remember that sweets, chips and biscuits can interfere with their natural appetite for nutritious food. Observe your child’s appetite and use it as a general guide.

5 basic nutritional needs

If you have the following five areas covered, you can’t really go wrong. The key is that you decide what to offer them and they decide how much they will eat of what you offer. This technique is called division of responsibility.
Protein builds bodies and keeps them strong and healthy. Try peas and beans (any kind, including frozen baby peas and canned baked beans), eggs, fish, chicken (or other meats), milk, yoghurt and cheese.
Vegetables and fruits contain nutrients and fibre important for a healthy body. The more colourful, the better. Vegetables: Broccoli, green beans, carrot, sweet potato, tomatoes, spinach, cucumber (with skin). Fruits: Papaya, banana, star fruit, mangosteen, rambutan, chiku, watermelon, melon, apple, orange.
Starchy carbohydrates. The more fibre they contain, the slower they burn. Try fibre-enriched bread, wholegrain rice, pasta, noodles, corn bread, pancakes and low sugar cereal.
Good fats. Food with ‘long-chain’ fats builds brain and nerve cells. These good fats are found in fish (tinned or fresh), avocado and vegetable oils such as olive and canola oil.
Water is the best source of fluids so make sure your children drink lots of water throughout the day. If you do give them fruit juice, always mix it half and half with water.

Food to Avoid

It is fine to offer dessert at the end of a meal and sliced fruit is the healthiest option. If you want to serve something special, go for vanilla ice cream or banana bread. Save the seriously sweet stuff, like chocolate and cake for special occasions such as birthdays.
Children’s systems can’t handle foods high in salt, sugar or caffeine. Soft drinks and fruit juices are expensive, high in sugar and bad for teeth. If you want to offer juice, mix it half and half with water.
Fast-fix foods. These foods are low in fibre and nutrients and high in sugar and/or fat. They include potato chips, donuts, biscuits and cookies, cakes, chocolate, sweets and candy. The fat in most of these foods is the less healthy type, including ‘trans fat’. Just say ‘no’ and, instead, let them get hooked on good snacks like grated or thinly sliced carrot or cucumber, or corn (jagung) served in a cup.

How you can help them learn to love good food

Children watch what you eat. You can help them adopt good eating habits by eating well yourself. Now is a good time to try giving up at least one or two items of junk food. If you can keep packaged biscuits and chips out of your house, it could make a very big difference to your child.
Sometimes children need to be offered a new food six to ten times before they try it for taste and, eventually, eat it. It helps if they see you eating it, too! If you still have no luck, try again in three to six months.

Too much or not enough

Knowing the way your tummy ‘talks’ to your brain can help you deal with concerns about under eating or overeating.
Delayed reaction. Our brains only realise we are full about 20 minutes after the food hits our stomachs.
Tummy clock. Feeling hungry is partly determined by your child’s ‘tummy clock’ - how much he ate yesterday at the same time. Big meals at regular times actually encourage a big appetite next dinner time, so you can use that to your advantage either way. You can encourage children who under eat at meal times to eat more, by limiting ‘grazing’ (or random snacking). On the other hand, regular healthy snacks might be a great way to reduce overeating at meal times.
If you are concerned that your child has a tendency to overeat, you can try solving the problem by:
(a) offering half a normal portion of food and then, if he has finished it, offer the second half of his meal ten minutes later (sometimes this will give his brain a chance to catch up with his stomach);
(b) offering the most nutritious stuff (lean protein and vegetables) first (’food sequencing’). He doesn’t need to eat everything on his plate but only offer him a normal portion of starchy carbohydrates (like pasta, bread or potatoes) after he has finished the more nutritious foods. (If given the choice, children tend to go for the bread and pasta first and that can fill them up before they get to the more nutritious foods.)
Under eating?You feel that your child is consistently not eating enough at meal times. If he tends to sit happily for about five minutes and then starts fidgeting and loses his appetite, try:
(a) food sequencing (see above) to get the good stuff into him first (during that precious window of opportunity);
(b) let him wolf down the food as fast as he wants (to let his stomach outrun his brain so he’ll fill up a bit more). His tummy clock can help, too.
If you can make meal times at the same time every day, he is more likely to be hungry at that time of day.

Exercise for children

Walking, running, jumping, throwing, climbing and playing give children strong bones and muscles, a healthy heart, lungs and arteries, and improved coordination, balance, posture and flexibility. It also increases overall metabolism all day long. This reduces their risk of getting overweight or obese, and of developing heart disease, cancer and diabetes down the track. Playgrounds are a great place to let off steam while playing with others.

A special note about television

Being overweight is unhealthy and uncomfortable – and very unpleasant for a young child. Eating salty chips while watching TV is a recipe for child obesity. Try limiting TV time to 30 minutes, followed by an outdoor activity (like a walk in the neighbourhood park). Keep snacks healthy, like a banana, a handful of healthy crackers, thinly sliced carrot or celery sticks.