Tackling childhood obesity

Elementary Pupils And Teacher Eating Lunch

With the new school year having kicked off and New Year’s Resolutions high up on our agendas, we should be looking at healthier food options for our children, starting with their lunch boxes.

Lunch box of egg salad

Angel Khoza is seven years old and weighs 50 kg.  According to South Africa’s first national nutritional survey conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) among about 25,500 South Africans, she is one of nearly five per cent of girls between the ages of two and 14 that are obese. The survey, found that about 40 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men were obese. About 18 per cent of children under the age of 15 years old are estimated to be overweight while about four per cent are obese.

Initially when Angel started putting on weight, her parents were not really concerned until they found out that her classmates were bullying her because of her weight.

The Khozas realised that helping Angel lose weight would have to be a family effort. The first habit that had to change was their weekly meals out to junk food joints and family steak houses.

“I always thought I was spoiling my kids and showing them love by taking them out to eat. Little did I know I was putting Angel’s health at risk,” said Angel’s father, Enoch.

“The mistake that most young parents make is not knowing when to say ‘no’,” he said. “We give our kids too much freedom and control in choosing their own foods.”

According to the HSRC study, about half of all children between the ages of 10 and 14 do not take a packed lunch to school.

Melanie Krause, a private dietician with the Allmed Clinic in Ermelo, Mpumalanga said: “Unfortunately there are a lot of misconceptions that discourage people from trying to change the way they eat. You don’t have to eat organic to eat healthily. Canned and frozen vegetables and fruit can be just as nutritious as fresh ones.”

Lunch box with soft cheese sandwiches, grapes and radish

Healthy lunchbox ideas

The most effective way of doing the healthy lunchbox thing is to buy and prepare ingredients over the weekend for easy assembly during the week. Keeping ingredients in containers in the fridge allows for variety and creativity, avoiding repetition and boredom. Also, don’t turn up your nose at canned produce. While some vegetables and legumes lose nutrients in the canning process, the healthy compounds of others actually increase.

Children’s palates can be developed from a young age and it is not necessary to feed them processed foods like chicken nuggets and fish fingers or different food to what adults eat. Many children also like spicy food.

Lunch box with salad and grapes


Some tips:

Cut up vegetables like carrot and celery.

Cut fruit into bitesize pieces.

Cut cheese into bitesize cubes.

Cut boiled eggs in half.

Cut grilled or steamed chicken breasts into bitesize pieces.

Use whole cherry tomatoes if you don’t want their juice to permeate the salad, cut them in half if there are other flavours that you want them to absorb.

Tubs of chunky cottage cheese can be spruced up with chopped radishes, fresh chives or other fresh herbs. You can also use spices such as cayenne pepper which has a variety of health benefits.


Artichokes with ham and beans   Egg noodles with vegetables & cashews in food storage box   Lentil salad with smoked chicken breast

Other ingredient ideas for salads



Mini meatballs


Cashews nuts, peanuts

Bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts

Cannellini beans, lentils, baby corn (canned)

Green runner beans (fresh)

Baby potatoes

Chinese egg noodles, short pasta like fusilli

Fresh herbs and baby leaves

Source: Health-E News



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