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Nutrition is key to controlling childhood obesity, which is on the rise, especially since some children have too much screen time, owing to online learning. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Online or in-person classes — the resumption of schools from August 30 means that parents have to start thinking of school day meals for their children.

Nutrition is key to controlling childhood obesity, which is on the rise, especially since some children have too much screen time, owing to online learning.

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The new malnutrition cause in kids

Dr Sameer Thylakandy Madakandy

Dr Sameer Thylakandy Madakandy, general practitioner with a diploma in child health, from the Reem Al Nahda Medical and Diagnostics clinics of the Avivo Health Care Group, explained: “Today, the biggest manifestation of malnutrition is obesity. In the UAE, too many children are obese. In the last few months, children who have been confined to homes are not only suffering from sluggish metabolism but a vitamin D deficiency.

"So mothers will have to pay extra attention to provide age-appropriate nutrition and make sure they pack healthy meals which not only balances the carbohydrate, fat and protein intake, but also provides enough micronutrients to the child such as vitamins, mineral and enzymes.”

How to get kids to choose nutrition over junk food?

Involve your kid into preparation of food for their lunch as that will provide the child an incentive to eat what he or she may have helped prepare, said Aya Serhal, Clinical dietitian at the American Hospital. Dubai. “For instance, a child who is able to stencil out a star-shaped cucumber or carrot for his salad is most likely going to eat that salad because it not only looks exciting but is also been prepared by him.”

Aya Serhal

Giving an insight into the typical school lunch, Serhal said: “The school lunch must include whole grains, proteins from lentils, beans, fish and lean chicken, fresh green leafy vegetables, nuts and also a healthy dessert such as a fruit or home-made cookie. Children must never be given fruit juices even if they are fresh. Instead pack a fruit, which will provide them high fibre as well. Always make sure you provide proper hydration to your child with enough water in their bottle and check they actually drink this.”

Here are some pointers parents should think about when planning their children’s diets to ensure balance
• Choose Protein: Protein are a great source of energy. Choose seafood (if your child is not allergic), lean meats and poultry, eggs or soy based products.
• Fruit Vitamins and Natural Sugars: Stay away from processed sugar and junk foods. Although kids may love it, it is detrimental to their health in the short and long run. Encourage your children to eat fruits, make sure to incorporate this in their daily diets, whether for breakfast or lunch or simply a snack. Stay away from fruit juices as they are very high in calories and can lead to tendency to gain weight.
• Vegetables: Also a super source of vitamins, vegetables are a MUST in your children’s diets. Although not favoured by children, parents should aim to provide a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red and orange, beans and peas, starchy and others, each week. If served from cans, parents need to ensure they are low in sodium.
• Whole Grains: Make sure to incorporate whole grains in your child’s diet including, brown or wild rice, popcorn, quinoa, and whole wheat bread. This is a high source of fibre and improves digestion. Stay away from refined sugars such as while bread and pasta. • Dairy: Encourage your children to consume dairy that is low in fat or fortified soy beverages. Yoghurt is also good for the gut flora and milk an excellent source for calcium.
• Water: Do not estimate the importance of keeping hydrated, especially in with the Dubai summer heat. Children should drink between 2 to 8 cups of water a day depending on the age. This will prevent dehydration and fatigue.

Citing examples of some of the varieties of balanced lunch menus, Serhal said: “Food must be tasty to the liking of our child. For instance, all kids like burgers. As a mother you can keep your child’s taste in mind and give him a whole grain bread burger that has generous smattering of a nut butter, with lean chicken patty, lettuce and tomatoes and a fruit. For a snack, you could provide a hummus dip with healthy whole grain crackers or veggie sticks. Do not deny a dessert to our child but provide this in a healthily cooked form such as an oatmeal chocolate cookie or a date and nuts bar, or a slice of home baked carrot cake. You can indulge your child with some tastier variety of snacks such as potato wedges baked in their jackets or air-fried sweet potato sticks.”

Portion control

Serhal also feels it is important for mothers not to overfeed their kid and train them to have smaller portions of food. “Make sure you understand the needs of your child.”

What are the main food groups you need to include in your child’s diet?

Dr Nagwa Iskander Elkhouli

Dr Nagwa Iskander Elkhouli, Specialist Paediatrician at Al Zahra Hospital Dubai said: “Mothers must plan the meals well to make sure her child gets the optimum nutrition now that schools have reopened.”