Traditionally, parents worry about whether children are eating enough but based on the rise in childhood obesity (2011 – 11% and updated in 2017 – increased to 13% in Singapore ), parents also have to be mindful of overeating AND eating the wrong types of foods.
For this 2-part series focused on feeding kids healthy, Abbott facilitated the interviews with nutrition experts. Today, we have Dr Chu Hui Ping, Paediatrician from Raffles Children’s Centre with a clinical interest in pediatric gastroenterology.
MarcieMom: Thank you Dr Chu for helping us in this series to clarify for parents how to feed our children. Firstly, in Singapore, we are familiar with the growth charts included in our child’s health booklet. Parents can work out the weight and height percentile of their child against the right chart for their age and gender.
Should growth charts be used as a gauge of how much to feed a child?
For instance, being above 95% percentile for weight means that the child should cut back and below 5% means parents should feed more?
Dr Chu: It’s probably not that simple and straight-forward just to use the growth percentile to decide on how much the child should be eating. Generally we don’t only look at the percentile for weight; we also consider the height percentile, i.e. whether the child is proportionate for weight and height, as well as the growth of the child over the last few months or a year.
Some children are genetically bigger in size, for instance they are already born bigger and have always been growing along the 95th percentile for their weight and height. So it will not be appropriate to put these kids on a diet. It is more important to ensure that children who are at above 95th percentile and who are at less than 5th percentile for weight are being assessed by their doctors or paediatricians to exclude any medical conditions which make them gain or lose weight respectively. Even if there aren’t any underlying medical conditions, it is also essential to review the various components of their diets and ensure that the diet is well-balanced and consists of the essential nutrients rather than just cutting down or feeding more.
Getting Food Portion Right for Children
MarcieMom: Growth charts don’t take into account the fats a child has (since obesity is defined as excess fats) nor do growth charts take into account physical activity levels. How should parent figure out if their child should be eating more or less based on the amount of exercise they have?
Dr Chu:The child should be able to regulate his intake of food depending on the amount of exercise he has. Generally if the child is active, i.e. participates in active play or exercise for 60 minutes in a day, he will feel hungry and ask for food if his current diet is insufficient to meet his activity level. It is more common for parents to give too much food in proportion to the amount of exercise that the child has, resulting in the child being overweight due to the excess unutilised calories. If the parent feels that the child is not eating sufficient for the amount of physical activity he has, he can increase the proportion of complex carbohydrates or whole grains which can help to release energy in a slow manner, as well as proteins in the form of lean meat for muscle growth.
Getting Food Types Right for Children
MarcieMom: How much to eat is only one part of the equation. What about the type of foods? While we know that excess sugar, trans-fat and processed foods are bad for health, what can parents do to ensure that their child have an optimal diet? Do share your top 5 tips on eating healthy for the child (and family)!
Dr Chu’s Top 5 Tips for Healthy Eating
- Eat fresh –try to avoid processed foods and to prepare your meals using fresh ingredients.
- Ensure that half of your meal should be consisting of vegetables and fruits.
- Choose wholesome foods such as brown rice and wholemeal bread.
- Reduce unhealthy fats/oils by cooking in a more healthy manner – steaming, boiling, stewing etc.
- Drink water for hydration instead of sweetened juices and soft drinks.
Dr Chu’s 5 Recommended Dishes at Kopitiam Coffee Shops
MarcieMom: In Singapore, there are many food courts and coffee shops but these usually don’t meet the healthy plate guideline of half a plate of fruits and vegetables. Which 5 common dishes found in coffee shops would you recommend and which 5 dishes would you discourage for children?
Dr Chu: Choosing health food options in food courts and coffee shops may be tough but not impossible. I would recommend these food choices:
- Rice with mixed dishes (choosing at least 1 vegetable and 1 lean meat)
- Fish soup with additional vegetables, soup noodles with additional vegetables
- Grilled fish or chicken with salad and mashed potato (instead of French fries)
- Freshly cut fruit platter
Dr Chu’s 5 Dishes to Avoid at Kopitiam Coffee Shops
- Chicken rice (because too oily and little vegetables)
- Char kway teow (because too oily and too much salt)
- Fried economic beehoon with luncheon meat (because too oily and lots of MSG in the processed meat)
- Laksa (because high saturated fats from the coconut milk)
- Black fried carrot cake (because too much salt and sugar from the black sauce used)
MarcieMom: Thank you Dr Chu for enlightening us on the types of foods beneficial for our child’s growth. Next week, we will check back on how to actually get our child to eat them!