Did you know that poor nutrition in childhood can cause problems that harm children’s physical and mental development? In addition, the lack of healthy eating habits can lead to the appearance of more serious diseases in adult life.
Among the main evils caused by poor diet are: diabetes, anemia, obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension and eating disorders. Unfortunately, this is already happening among the little ones. Brazil is in third place in the world ranking of cases of diabetic children and adolescents. Obesity affects more than 13% of children between five and nine years old, according to the SUS (Unified Health System).
With the objective of changing the situation of infant feeding in the country, projects try to bring children together in the assembly of the dish and teach the importance of trying new flavors. Among them are the “Cozinhas e Infâncias”, an initiative that integrates the Food and Culture Institute, which was inserted in two schools in the city of São Paulo this year, and the “Healthy Food, Happy Child”, created in 2018 by Casa da Criança Maria Luiza Hartzer, in Campinas (SP), partner of the FEAC Foundation (Fundação Esporte Arte Cultura).
How do projects work?
In “Cozinhas e Infâncias”, which will last two years, initially teachers from a public and a private institution – the EMEI Dona Leopoldina, in Lapa, and Path School, in Barra Sheath- are learning culinary practices to reconnect children with the country’s history, culture and biodiversity. After the educators are trained, the little ones will start cooking and have more contact with healthy eating.
“Cooking with children generates autonomy, freedom, mobility. Pedagogically speaking, we understand that food brings a very large multiplicity and should enter the curricula of schools in an interdisciplinary way”, says Ariela Doctors, responsible for the management of Instituto Comida e Cultura and creator from the project.
The idea was created after Ariela and her team attended a private school in São Paulo in 2018. During the experience, they cooked and ate with the children, and taught different aspects of food: where it came from, how it had been planted, what to do with the rest of the food etc.
The “Healthy Food, Happy Child” was designed from the observation of the little ones at lunchtime. Many children ate only rice and beans, others did not want to try new foods and the time of eating was not pleasant.
After the school introduced the children to the stages of food preparation, which ranged from planting to cleaning and preparation, mealtime became more harmonious.
Importance of healthy eating in childhood
Experts consulted agree on the importance of initiating the habit of healthy eating before and during childhood. In the first thousand days, which range from pregnancy to the first two years of life, healthy foods help the baby’s physical and cognitive development. “During this time, one of the main growth spurt phases takes place, in addition to most brain and immunological development”, says Camila Fraga, pediatrician at Hospital Jutta Batista, of Rede São Luiz.
When we start to have good eating habits in childhood, when we reach adulthood, we will benefit. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, proteins and good fats, and low in sugars and processed foods, helps to maintain a quality of life and longevity, and also reduces the risk of metabolic diseases.
From the moment the child creates healthy habits and is presented with the many options of biodiversity on the plate, their tastes will be broader and the palates will not be so superficial, thus increasing the possibility of maintaining the habits when they grow up, even if they try things not so healthy along the way.
When to start?
Good nutrition starts with breastfeeding. Milk must be exclusive until six months of age. After this period, the introduction of healthy foods can begin, as long as the child shows signs of readiness to do so.
The process of recognizing new flavors and creating habits takes place through adequate food education. The introduction of new foods should be gradual, respecting the time of each baby. The family and the accompanying pediatrician must decide whether at first the meals will be offered as porridge or using the BLW method — baby-guided weaning.
The offer of fruits and vegetables may be the first indication, due to sensory exploration and nutritional content. It is important to avoid exposing the child to processed foods and to give preference to fruits and vegetables, in addition to animal proteins, and to use this same eating habit for the whole family.
In addition, everyone eating the same thing can help both in the period of food introduction of babies and with older children who have not yet acquired the healthy eating habit. When children observe the adults in the house consuming the same food as they do, foods begin to feel familiar. In addition, the little ones start to feel safe and willing to try.
Ways to introduce healthy foods
If your child was not introduced to healthy foods as a baby, there are ways to start introducing them. You can replace industrialized snacks with fruits, vegetables on sticks or homemade cookies. “Our role is to offer new flavors and opportunities to increase children’s curiosity about these foods. If they don’t like the appearance, smell or taste of the food, their choice not to consume it will be respected”, he says. Anne Botelho, professor of nutrition at UFS (Federal University of Sergipe) and doctor in health sciences.
Not having ultra-processed foods at home can be another way. But it is not possible to improve only the child’s diet, the whole family must be involved. Using creativity when offering the food and not having the presence of screens during the meal will also help. We can use the artifices of our own diet to attract attention, assembling colorful dishes that are arranged in a way that pleases the child’s eyes.
“It’s fun to make a drawing with food, but I believe that when children have more contact with food, like a small plantation at home, they have a greater awareness. When they get their hands dirty, they absorb the importance of food much better. food, both for her body and for the next,” says Ariela Doctors.
Sources: Ariela Doctorsresponsible for managing the Food and Culture Institute and creator of the “Kitchen and Childhood” project; Renan Barretopediatrician at Hospital São Camilo; Camila Fraga, pediatrician at Hospital Jutta Batista, from Rede São Luiz; Anne Botelhonutrition professor at UFS (Federal University of Sergipe) and doctor in health sciences; Cinthia Karla Rodriguesnutritionist and nutrition professor at UFPB (Federal University of Paraíba); Rodrigo Pinheiroepidemiologist and professor of nutrition at UFPB.