Robyn K. Miller, Gleaner Writer
These days, preparing a balanced and nutritious meal for your little picky eaters as they get ready to return to school can be a challenging task, even for the most seasoned parents.
Emphasis must be on preparing a balanced meal that contains nutrients. These should include carbohydrates, proteins, minerals and vitamins - so says food and nutrition consultant Dr Heather Little-White.
Because children, especially the very young, eat with their eyes, keen attention must be paid to presentation. Meals, therefore, "have to be interesting, colourful and properly apportioned".
For breakfast, Dr Little-White is "encouraging the reintroduction of porridge, such as plantain, banana and cornmeal versus the packaged ones that are loaded with sugar rather than nutrients." Being the first meal of the day, she pointed out that, "breakfast is important as we have to feed the brain," to start the day.
Reflecting on the foods children were fed 50 years ago, she said parents and guardians needed to get back to the days when children were given fruits, porridge and soups. These are excellent choices for low-income earners.
She, however, recommends that this be done from as early as the baby and toddler stages as "the thrust of early childhood has to be anchored by good nutrition".
Against this background, the nutritionist said there is a growing need for a nutrition policy to educate and guide parents, school administrators and caregivers on the proper nutrition of children. "It is a national drive and a matter that parents have to take up from early," she said.
For lunch, she suggests macaroni dishes, Johnny cakes, colourful tossed salads and soups. Soups, she said, are quite filling and "you can put everything in it." Like porridge, they can also be easily warmed and had more than once.
To complement their meals, in-season fruits such as apples, mangoes and cherries are easy pickings. These can used to make juices, be sun-dried, or had in their natural state.
Recalling "the '70s when people were forced to 'tun you han, mek fashion'", she urged parents to spend more time preparing the abundance of fruits available for optimal nutrition of their children.
Fruits, she said, along with grains, are excellent snacks but should be cut up for younger children. Home-treats such as rock buns, banana cakes and pumpkin breads make great snacks, and parents can adjust the sugar levels here, or they may throw in sandwiches made with wholewheat bread.
Noting Jamaicans' appetite for cutting corners, she acknowledged that it will not be easy, but said, "it's going to take a new approach.
Meanwhile, she is encouraged that where there has been intervention, "it has been working well with the schools and communities", such as Arnett Gardens a few year ago, resulting in "pockets of excellence".
The nutrition education programme which teaches community members how to prepare wholesome, low-cost meals is now being replicated in Central Kingston. It is also said to have trickle-down effects for the community, such as employment.