When we are healthy we feel well. We have enough energy to play sport, enjoy time with our family and friends and concentrate in school. To keep ourselves healthy we need to sleep enough, be active, brush our teeth and keep our bodies clean every day. We also need a healthy, balanced diet so that our bodies can grow and function properly. That means we need to make healthy choices about the food we eat every day. To make sure we have a constant supply of energy during our busy day, we need to eat three balanced meals. We also need to drink about 8 glasses of water a day.
List the food you eat.
Make a day's food list. Jot down what you ate yesterday under these headings - breakfast, lunch, supper, snacks, drinks.
Where you can, give the quantities. For example, 4 slices of break, 2 cups of tea with sugar, 1 orange, 2 biscuits.
What is a balanced diet?
A balanced diet means that we eat healthy food from all the food groups every day. These food groups are carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables, proteins, dairy products and fats and oils. The sugar and salt which we use to add flavour to our food should be kept to a minimum. The diagram below gives an idea of how much we need of each food group.
Answer questions about eating:
- From which section should most of our food come?
- Should we eat more fruit or more vegetables?
- Which food do we need the least of?
- Do all proteins come from animals?
- Find a partner and give him/her two examples of food from each food group.
Why do we need to eat food from these different groups?
Most of our daily food should be carbohydrates which gives us energy (although some grown-ups who might disagree). The healthiest carbohydrates are unrefined. This means that not all the fibre was removed when that food was processed in a factory. Fibre is very important for good nutrition. It is a plant substance that helps our food move through our bodies so that we can absorb the goodness of food slowly. Some examples of healthy carbohydrates are brown and wholewheat bread and pasta, brown rice, oats, bran, potatoes and sweet potatoes.
We need fresh fruits and vegetables each day. They give us energy, fibre and most of the minerals and vitamins our bodies need to function properly. It is important to have both yellow vegetables like carrots and pumpkin, as well as green vegetables like cabbage and spinach, as they contain different minerals and vitamins. Tomatoes and fruit like oranges have high levels of Vitamin C which helps us to fight colds and flu and other illnesses.
Proteins build new cells and repair damaged cells in our bodies. We need a small amount of protein each day, no more than the size of three matchboxes. We get proteins from meat, fish and eggs and also from pulses which are dried beans, especially soya beans, lentils and peas.
Dairy products give us the calcium we need for strong bones and teeth. Calcium is found in milk, cheese and yoghurt. We need small amounts of these foods each day.
We need even smaller amounts of fats and oils each day to build a healthy nervous system and to help with the digestion of other food. Animal fats are found in meat and dairy products such as cheese and milk. Plant fats which are healthier for us are found in sunflower oil, margarine, nuts and avocados. We should eat very little of these food each day.
- Read the information about the different foods we need. Say why you need that particular food.
- Read your own food list. Write down the foods you should have more or less of for a healthy balanced diet. Write a sentence about one new thing you have found out about a healthy diet.
- Complete these sentences:
- I should have more ...
- I should have less ...
- I found out ...
There are many factors which have an influence on whether children have a healthy balanced diet. Their families might be too poor to feed them properly or they might not have the correct information about a balanced diet. Children sometimes refuse to eat certain foods or they may choose to skip meals. The influence of the media also has an effect on how children choose food.
Food is expensive in certain regions. Many South African children do not have a healthy balanced diet because their families do not have the money to pay for it. Instead, they mostly eat carbohydrates. Sometimes, they add vegetables, milk and beans when they can afford it. Other families manage to afford a wider variety of food by choosing more of the cheaper options in the different food groups. In this way they manage to eat a more balanced diet. Thus, we learn that a family's finances can affect the diet of children.
For most of you, the school day starts early. You need energy to concentrate in class, play with your friends at break, play sport after school, get home safely, and do your homework. When you skip meals, like a balanced breakfast, you will probably start feeling tired and hungry and find it difficult to concentrate.
Some people skip breakfast because they are in such a rush in the mornings that they have no time to eat. Or they may think that by skipping breakfast every day they will lose weight. The problem is that after a long time without food, we usually start feeling very tired and hungry. To feel better, we will snack on whatever food is tasty and easy to get. Chips, chocolate bars, sweets, biscuits and fizzy drinks are all readily available in shops. Their high sugar and fat content will provide energy for a short time, but if you have them often, these snacks may damage your health.
Advertising in the media, especially on TV encourages us to buy snacks and other high fat, high sugar meals. We see pictures of beautiful people enjoying them and we want to be like them. It may seem cool to eat what they eat instead of our usual healthy breakfast. What we don't see in these advertisements are the long-term bad effects of a regular diet of this kind of food.
A healthy school lunch is just as important as a healthy breakfast!
An unhealthy diet also causes other problems. Over time, sugar makes holes in your teeth which can only be fixed by having fillings at the dentist. Too much sugar, fat and refined food can also cause pimples and spots on your face, especially if you don't exercise and don't drink enough clean water.
It's not too late to change your eating habits! By taking responsibility and making healthy choices about your food now, you will feel and look better and have more energy. You will also be laying the foundation for better health for yourself in later life.