School holidays are fun for children especially teenagers, yet a time for caution. The recklessness often includes a tendency to feed on junk foods and for some, going without food for many hours of the day!
What is my quarrel with that? As a nutritionist I am concerned with the wellbeing and development of our children.
Between the ages of 12 and 18, all children go through what is known as a growth spurt. On the average, the growth spurt begins at about age 10 in girls and 12 in boys tending to reach its peak about 2 years later in both boys and girls. (This is the average age. However, some children develop either slower or faster than the average).
At the peak of this spurt, a child may grow between three and four inches a year. Most boys grow faster than girls. When the growth spurt ends, the child has nearly attained his or her adult height. A lot of physical and psychological changes take place during this period. For example, the body grows taller and heavier, the shape changes, and the facial bones change. As the spurt starts, fat collects around the buttocks and the abdomen in both boys and girls. During the course of the spurt, boys accumulate mostly lean tissue (muscles and bones), girls add more fat, particularly on the hips and breasts. The result is that fact makes up 25% of the total body weight in girls and between 15% and 20% in boys. By the time of a girlâ€™s first menstrual period or the end of a boysâ€™ growth spurt, adult proportions have been reached.
Tremendous changes do take place during this period, and the need for all nutrients increase, leaving both young children and teenagers vulnerable to malnutrition. In order for your childâ€™s brain, muscles and bones to reach their potential size, they must be provided with adequate protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals. But because teenagers tend to spend most of their time away from home, it is not unusual for them to substitute a bottle of soda and a piece of cake or a biscuit or some other junk food for both breakfast and lunch.
The tragedy is that while such beverages and foods may fill the stomach, they contain very little nutritional value. As such, some nutritional deficiencies, for example, iron deficiency and others may develop gradually over the holidays; causing learning and health problems later during the school term, lack of concentration, poor attention and generally poor school performance.
Therefore, the provision of healthy foods that contain the needed nutrients to sustain growth and enhance your childâ€™s school performance later in the term should be started today. Include in your family diet plenty of healthy snacks such as sugarcane, jack fruit (fene), water melon, roasted groundnuts, soya beans, simsim seeds, ripe bananas, pineapples and avocado. Your child should eat at least two balanced meals a day. Let breakfast be the most important meal of the day. Encourage your child to drink a lot of clean, boiled water throughout the day.
Last but not least, encourage your child to go to bed before 10.00pm. Remember, growth and all body repair takes place during sleep.
What do your children eat?