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Kids are Back to School…and Eating Better

\Young child washing veggies in the sink

Image source: Bigstock

With back to school, it’s time to get those lunch bags busy again. A recent study published in the Public Health Nutrition journal found that school kids are eating better than they did 15 years ago. But there’s still room for improvement.

The study, led by researchers at University of British Columbia, compared the diets of about 7,000 kids aged 6 to 17 between 2004 and 2015. The nutritional value of the foods were judged using the Canadian Healthy Eating Index, which considers 11 dietary components such as total vegetables and fruit, whole fruit, whole grain products, saturated fat and sodium.

Overall, there was a 13% improvement in the foods that kids were eating during the school day. Specifically, school kids were eating more vegetables and fruit, as well as eating fewer calories from “minimally nutritious foods” including sugary drinks and salty prepackaged choices.

That’s the good news, but we can do better. Kids still aren’t eating enough dark green and orange vegetables (important for folate and vitamin A) – think spinach, kale, broccoli, carrots and sweet potato. Kids are also falling short on whole fruit and whole grains.

Here’s what you can do:

• Get kids involved in the food experience.
Ask them to wash veggies, chop ingredients and help with the cooking. Bonus – kids are more likely to eat the meals that they’ve made.
Set them up for success. Make lunches together. Include a variety of fruit, veggies and whole grains. Keep portions manageable for your child’s appetite.
Be a great role model. Monkey see, monkey do. When you eat broccoli, there’s a better chance that junior will too.
• Advocate for healthy eating.
Canada is the only G7 country without a national school food program. With the upcoming federal election, let’s put this on the agenda to nourish our future generations.

Written by Sue Mah, MHSc, RD, PHEc, FDC – Registered Dietitian & Co-Founder Nutrition for NON-Nutritionists

Feeding kids a vegan diet in Italy could be a crime

vegan-kid

The buzz:
Late last month, Italian Parliamentarian Elvira Savino proposed a bill that would hold parents legally responsible for feeding a vegan diet to children who are under the age of 16. A vegan diet excludes all animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs.

The bill was proposed after multiple cases of Italian infants were hospitalized for malnourishment presumably due to eating vegan diets. If the bill passes, parents who restrict their children to a vegan diet would face a year-long jail sentence. Should the child fall ill because of the diet, the sentence would increase to four years; and if the child dies, the jail term would rise to six years.

The Italian government has not been shy to step into people’s kitchens. Last year, an Italian court reportedly ordered a vegan mother to feed her son meat at least once a week after her divorced husband complained that the son wasn’t getting adequate nourishment. In 2015, a father was sentenced to nine months in prison after forcing his teen daughters to diet only on whole grains, cereals and veggies because he deemed them to be too fat.

Savino’s proposed bill will be debated later this year.

The science:

According to the Dietitians of Canada, vegan diets can lower your risk of many conditions including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. A healthy vegan diet includes a variety of grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes (dried peas, peas and lentils), seeds and nuts.

However, because a vegan diet excludes meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs, it may take some planning to get enough protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fats from foods and/or supplements.

Our expert POV:
A vegan diet may be appropriate for toddlers to teens with careful planning. The most important consideration at these ages is to ensure that they are getting the nutrients they need to grow and develop well.

Talk to a dietitian about vegan food sources for nutrients such as protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12 (which are typically found in meat, fish, poultry and eggs). Calcium and vitamin D are also essential for the development of strong bones and teeth, while omega-3 fats are essential for brain development and eye health.

With our training and experience in health promotion, we wonder if nutrition education for parents / caregivers would be more effective than this punitive legislation.