Children need healthy eating guidance

by Mike Isle

An ARA Institute of Canterbury study has shown that children’s lunchboxes in Canterbury are coming close to meeting Ministry of Health guidelines for daily amounts of fruit and vegetables. However, the study also reveals children are not always eating them.

ARA student Abby Taylor, who studied the contents of Canterbury children’s lunchboxes, said 264 participants completed an online survey. 

She found that brown bread was more common than white bread, vegetables were about 50% of lunches and water was the main drink.

“This is a positive snapshot. However, this was mitigated slightly by the finding that only 4.2% of children returned chips in their lunchbox but 27.3% returned fruit or vegetables.”
Abby said that parents often prioritised food their children would actually eat and preferred, and healthy food was the second consideration. 

“I think it is really important that kids get a good start. Parents are the ones who choose what their kids eat; however, they don’t always get much say, so it is interesting to see what they are feeding their children,” Abby said. According to a fellow student, Alicia Clark sending a daily text message could encourage children to eat more fruit and vegetables. In her study, Alicia, and nutrition programme leader Dr Maria Choukri texted 26 students daily to remind them of the positive effects of eating five serves of fruit and vegetables a day.

Fruit and vegetable intake increased by 1.2 serves a day; up from three serves a day, Alicia said.

According to the Ministry of Health, parents and caregivers need to be encouraging and incentivising children into healthy eating habits. The ministry recommends that two to five-year-olds should have at least two servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day, and children above five years should try to have at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day. It also recommends whole-grain bread instead of white bread, margarine instead of butter (spread thinly) and water or reduced-fat milk rather than soft drinks, cordial or sports drinks.