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An expert tells Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan that urban mothers don’t know what they are feeding their toddlers
THE sample may be too small to reflect the opinion of the urban population but, if the recent study by the Nutrition Society of Malaysia is any indication, urban mothers don’t know what they are feeding their toddlers.
They mostly read only expiry dates and almost 75 per cent of the 300 respondents are not familiar with the nutrition information panel on their children’s food products and more than 80 per cent actually believe that a good choice of growing up milk (GUM) could make their children smarter.
Ironically, 80 per cent are not even sure of the ingredients in the milk and more than half don’t think it was important to know what was in the milk.
The survey is an NSM collaboration with Abbott to raise awareness about giving children balanced nutrition.
“It is not about the lack of knowledge,” NSM president Dr Tee E Siong says, “but mothers just don’t care enough.
“I know I will upset a lot of mothers when I say this but they don’t spend enough time and resources researching what is best, nutrition-wise, for their children.
“In cases where both parents are working, they come home late, buy outside food and think that’s good enough.”
There is only a small window of opportunity to teach children good eating habits and if mothers do not seize this time, it will pass.
“Between the ages of 3 and 6, children should be taught good diet habits. By the time they are 10-11, they start having their own peers and mind set and it’s hard to reach out to them,” he says.
“Mothers should introduce vegetables, for instance, as soon as their babies can eat solid food. Mash vegetables and give a variety of food to the child. It doesn’t matter if it is just a teaspoon. Food introduction is very important,” he says.
“Mothers must make a conscious effort to look at the nutritional needs of their children. Three square meals are not enough. You have to know what is in those meals.
“Toddlers need coaxing from young. By the time they are 18 months old, it may be too late to get them to eat vegetables.
“Mothers should start when babies are six months old. Taste acquiring is very important. Kids don’t eat vegetables because they have not been introduced to the taste when young.
Tee says he has seen the obesity pandemic grow in the past 30 years and it is not decreasing any time soon.
“The problem becomes acute due to a sedentary lifestyle and the bombardment of Western culture like fast food and processed food. Now everything is automated, so energy expansion is much lower compared to energy consumed,” he says.
MILK THE BENEFIT
When it comes to GUM for toddlers, Tee says mothers should see it as supplementary rather than the main source of food. They should look for good protein, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins.
“The rest of the time, the kids should eat what adults eat, but in smaller portions. They should have a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner and a child must get used to liking food.
“The most expensive milk isn’t necessarily the best,” he says.
“Don’t be taken in by gimmicks. More does not mean better. Just because it has five times more vitamin A doesn’t mean it’s going to turn a child into Einstein. There is no such thing as brain food.”
When it comes to sugar, Tee says the content in GUM is monitored by the Ministry Of Health and the level is not alarming, so mothers should not be worried.
“Small amounts of sugar is added to get children to like the taste. The issue is exaggerated by some parties,” he says.
“What is the point in choosing a sugar-free milk when mothers allow free flow of fruit juices or cakes? No one food can be blamed for obesity or diseases. Nutrition is holistic. We need to look at the big picture and tackle nutrition as a whole.”
CHOICE OF FRUIT JUICES
If you want to buy fruit juice, buy pure fruit juice because fruit juice is already high in sugar.
Some fruit juices in the market contain barely 30 per cent or even 10 per cent of juice. The rest is water and sugar.
“We are back to reading food labels. Don’t buy something that is laden with sugar or don’t allow kids to drink 10 glasses of fruit juice a day. It’s better to eat the fruit for the vitamins and fibre,” he says.
Tee has been getting the public to eat better for the last 40 years. It’s an uphill task, he says, but he is still passionate about the matter.
Tee discourages parents from feeding toddlers soya milk, unless the child is allergic to lactose.
“We must stop the practice of feeding a child soya bean milk when he or she can take cow’s milk. The growth of the child won’t be the same,” he says.
Tee advises mothers to read up on nutrition and to cook for their families to make sure they get the right mix of nutrition.
“Small steps go a long way,” he says.
Teach kids good eating habits
1. Parents must set an example. Choose a variety of food for yourself and your family.
2. Cook and eat at home at least once a day. Take time to talk about food, fats, fibre and why good food is important.
3. Bring them shopping for food instead of going to a toy store. Introduce them to different foods. Informal sessions are very important.
4. Read up more on nutrition.
5. Variety (of food), moderation (in portion size) and balance (carbohydrate, protein and fat) make a good diet.