Healthy eating

Unlike the toddler, the young school aged child wants to fit into the world around them. At the same time they feel more independent and peer pressure begins to shape their behaviour. Children start to explore their environment more, at home and at school. This includes food choices.

It’s good for parents to continue to offer healthy foods and encourage acceptable eating behaviour but balance this with giving freedom of choice.

Peer pressure will have an impact, especially with foods. Foods that are heavily advertised will be favourites and more often than not will be high in fat, salt or sugar. These types of foods are suitable from time to time as special occasion treats. Try to find healthy foods in packets, eg fruit in a bag is popular.

Low fat alternatives such as reduced fat milk and low fat cooking methods are appropriate at this age. The food choices of your child should be the same as the rest of the family – generally low in fat (especially saturated fats) and high in fibre. This keeps the whole family healthy and reduces the risk of long term health problems.

As your child reaches school age they begin to eat more meals away from the family home. This includes school lunches. This is when you may encounter things like swapped lunches (the grass is greener… in a friend’s lunch box) and missed meals (not enough time to eat and play!).

Snacking is part of a child’s eating patterns and significant amounts of nutrients are obtained from snacks – often up to a quarter of their daily energy needs and one third of other nutrients e.g. iron and calcium. Ensuring a supply of healthy snacks is therefore important.

Helpful hints:

  • Prepare a lunch that looks good and is quick to eat.
  • Pack up snacks and lunches in different wraps or containers which makes it easy for your child to determine which food package is for which meal.
  • Freeze sandwiches and other freezable items the night before so that lunch tastes and looks fresh.

Children at this age like to learn new skills and can make simple items like sandwiches. Lunch may be more likely to be eaten if it has been made by the child themselves.

Lunch and snack ideas

Lunch ideas:

  • Sandwich fingers or triangles
  • Crackers and reduced fat cheese
  • Rolls, bagels or wraps
  • Small container of pasta salad

Snack ideas:

  • Whole fresh fruit or bite sized fruit pieces
  • Low fat yoghurt or dairy desserts
  • Dried fruit packets (e.g. sultanas or apple)
  • Fruit in zip lock bags (e.g. grapes, cherries or strawberries)
  • Fruit snack packs (e.g. peaches in natural juice)
  • Wholegrain crispbread eg. Vita-wheats
  • Wholegrain rice crackers
  • Pikelets, crumpets or English muffins
  • Homemade fruit muffins
  • Low fat milk tetra pack (freeze the night before)
  • Muesli bar
  • Fruit loaf/toast
  • Fruit filled biscuits
  • Popcorn
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Toasted sandwich/jaffle

If demands for ‘special occasion food’ increase (such as crisps and chocolate) “because that’s what everyone else gets”, it’s best to compromise by including treats for special occasions. Taking a balanced approach helps to teach your child about the difference between ‘everyday’ and ‘special occasion’ foods. These rules should apply equally to siblings and other family members.

When a child starts school they may begin to separate from their parents, and rely more on approval from friends. This is a time of growing independence and socialising – sleepovers, camps, parties – fun. Staying over with their friends at night and sharing meals with their friends’ families becomes important in their social development.

Riding the food merry-go-round with diabetes

Varying appetite – varying insulin dose

A child’s appetite varies during this time, usually indicating the body’s need for food. Growth spurts or periods of lots of activity are times when they will usually eat more. To cater for these changes, insulin dosage may need to be adjusted. This does not mean their diabetes is worsening as is sometimes believed. It’s an inevitable part of the growing process.

Talk to your doctor or diabetes educator about these adjustments. Frequent reviews (at least once a year) of meal plans by a dietitian are essential to ensure normal growth.

As they get older, children may be able to stay up later on some nights (such as the weekend). At times like this, it may be appropriate to give them a second supper to prevent hypos. Check their blood glucose levels (BGLs) to help to decide if this is necessary.

With increasing appetite it’s important to offer extra healthy food choices (e.g. fruit, vegetables, dairy foods) and seek advice on changes to insulin dosage to maintain good blood glucose control. Talk to your child’s doctor or educator.

Sharing decisions about food choices

Along with their growing responsibilities for day-to-day tasks come the responsibilities of diabetes. A child at this stage is usually cooperative, willing to learn new tasks and responds to encouragement.

Learning about healthy food choices and understanding which foods (carbohydrates) affect BGL’s is appropriate and possible. Helping out with cooking and making food choices in the supermarket are practical and fun ways for your child to learn.

Teachers, other parents and carers need to be informed that your child has diabetes – so they can be prepared. However, making a fuss about your child’s food choices may cause them to feel different and singled out. This is certainly the case if one child is seen to get more attention than other children. So providing a few simple guidelines for other people is best.

An older child takes more responsibility for their food choices. They may also receive more pocket money, so their buying power increases. Food is an important part of socialising and money is often spent on food.

Pressure from friends and a growing sense of self-awareness become an important influence in food choices.

As a child progresses to adolescence, changes in eating habits may be a way in which they express their new found identity. Fast foods and takeaways are popular, as is snacking, and skipping meals sometimes becomes a habit.

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