Balanced & Nutritious

The UmhlangaJune 18, 2024

Fuel your child’s growth and development with Registered Dietitian Vanessa’s expert tips for healthier eating habits.

Feeling overwhelmed by the daily grind, including the lunchtime scramble for your child’s meal? You’re not alone. Packing school lunches can be a chaotic task, often resulting in haphazard choices like throwing in a random fruit, a sandwich and some packaged snacks.

But fear not! Vanessa Clarke, your local Registered Dietitian, is here to lend a hand. With a passion for empowering families to make healthier food choices, she aims to instil lifelong healthy eating habits. As a fellow parent, she understands the challenges firsthand and is dedicated to equipping families with practical knowledge for a healthier lifestyle.

With over 16 years of experience, Vanessa has worked across various sectors, finally establishing her successful private practice in Umhlanga Ridge. Here, she works with adults and children, providing tailored guidance for healthier living. In essence, she is your go-to ally in navigating the journey towards healthier eating habits for your family. 

Let’s tackle some common misconceptions about children and food. Contrary to popular belief, eating is a learned behaviour for kids and doesn’t always come naturally. Vanessa often encounters parents with unrealistic expectations about their children’s eating habits, especially in the early years. She emphasises that many factors influence a child’s eating patterns, and it’s essential to understand the complexity involved.

Factors like sensory perception and fear of new foods influence children’s eating habits, which can contribute to picky eating behaviours. It’s crucial to realise that introducing new foods can be a gradual process, sometimes taking 17 to 20 attempts before acceptance.

Why is a balanced lunchbox essential for your child? Simple – kids’ bodies are like engines running at high speed, needing fuel to match their growth and activities. “A balanced lunchbox or diet ensures children meet all their needs for growth and development,” explains Vanessa.

Opting for homemade whole foods over processed snacks ensures your kids get the nutrition they need to thrive. It’s about fuelling their bodies with nutrient-rich foods for a healthy, happy future.

Beware of packaged products labelled ‘healthy’ or ‘nutritious’. Vanessa warns that food labels can mislead. In South Africa, terms like ‘healthy’ are prohibited on food labels. Instead, look for terms like ‘source of’, ‘high in’ or ‘low in’ to find healthier options.

While fruit is a nutritious choice, fruit juice often lacks fibre and can be high in calories and sugars. Limit fruit juice intake and opt for whole fruit whenever possible for a balanced diet. Keep an eye on labels to make informed choices when shopping for your family’s health.

Wondering how to keep lunch boxes varied for busy parents? Here’s the scoop:

Fruit and Vegetables: Aim for one or two options like apples, bananas or chopped carrots to ensure a good dose of vitamins. Reserve fruit juice and dried fruit for occasional treats.

Starchy Foods or Grains: Opt for high-fibre choices like wholewheat wraps or high-fibre bread or crackers, or add some homemade popcorn for extra fibre.

Meat or Meat Alternative: Consider chicken sandwiches, leftover chicken drumsticks, meatballs, biltong, cheese or vegetarian options like beans, nuts, and seeds.

Dairy: Choose unsweetened yoghurts or grated cheese for added protein and calcium.

Hydration: Fill up their water bottle to keep them hydrated throughout the day. Skip sugary drinks to avoid obesity and tooth decay.

By incorporating these elements, you’ll ensure a balanced and nutritious lunch for your child, even on busy days.


Words: Kai Coates