Set the kids on the right track for a healthy future, writes Rebecca Kamm
Getting the kids involved in preparing healthy meals and snacks is a good way to promote nutrition.
Adulthood presents a never-ending list of health concerns to navigate: foods to avoid, supplements to take, exercise to fit in (to an already full-to-bursting schedule). But what about the kids; which concerns are key when it comes to keeping them well and happy - not just now, but into their own adulthood?
Many of the risk factors for adult afflictions, including heart disease, obesity, bone fragility and diabetes, arise in childhood. It sounds daunting, but Starship pediatrician Diane Emery says there are a few key areas caregivers should look at to help their little ones blossom.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, proper nutrition is the crucial starting point. When it comes to both mealtimes and lunchboxes, think variety. "Ask kids what they want and include a range of healthy options for them to choose from," Emery advises. "Involve them in the decision-making and the preparation; they're more likely to eat and enjoy it."
Children's diets should be rich in grain products, fruits and vegetables, and low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Iron is vital for energy, mental concentration and a strong immune system; excellent sources include lean beef and lamb, and canned sardines and tuna. Peas, spinach and broccoli are also good sources, and watch out for breakfast cereals and porridges with added iron.
Calcium is also mandatory for children's wellbeing. It plays an essential role in bone growth and muscle and nerve development. Swap soda for milk or calcium-fortified orange juice and pop cheese, yoghurt, white beans, tofu and cabbage into your shopping trolley.
One major concern for Kiwi kids is lack of breakfast, Emery says. "Without it, they can't think properly, they get sleepy, tired and irritable during the day, and can faint during morning assembly. Make sure children have something to eat and drink in the morning, even if it's just a yoghurt, banana or piece of fruit when they're running out the door."
Leading by example is the quickest route to promoting good eating habits, so make sure everyone at home has healthy foods (and stays active), rather than setting up separate rules for your child.
Constant exposure to sugary foods is detrimental to weight management and dental care. Ideally, tuck shops would stock only healthy options - and schools are increasingly savvy in this regard - but if you're unsure what your child's school stocks then feel free to inquire.
Luckily, if sugar does do its worst, dental care in New Zealand is free for under 18s. Have the dentist teach your child the best way to brush and floss teeth; pediatric dentists often have ways of making dental care seem fun and grown up.
Meanwhile, encourage twice-daily brushing and flossing, and water.
"Drinking water is great for plaque control," Emery says. "With regular check-ups, flossing and brushing, your child will be pretty free of decay."
A more serious threat to children's health is, of course, measles. According to the Ministry of Health, more than 600 cases have been reported since the start of 2011, with 100 of those cases ending up in hospital.
Measles is covered by the New Zealand Immunisation Schedule via the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. "From our point of view there is no reason now why children should not be immunised against measles, mumps and rubella," Emery says.
Symptoms include fever, a runny nose, sore and watery "pink eyes", and (often) small white spots inside the mouth.
A rash usually starts on the third to seventh day of the illness, beginning on the face, then behind the ears, then over the head and body. If you suspect measles, see a doctor - but call first, to minimise infecting others in the waiting room.