The Importance of Water
Water serves many roles in the human body. It helps flush out waste products; is the primary component of blood; aids in digestion; enables the body to regulate its internal heat balance (via the process of sweating); maintains cellular functioning; and helps maintain healthy metabolism, just to name a few. Water is best when it isn't doctored with sugar, salt, caffeine or calories. Many sports drinks and "performance waters" are loaded with sugar, salt and caffeine, however, and should be avoided on that basis, at least with regard to everyday consumption. Instead, children should be encouraged to drink water straight up, or enhanced with slices of lemon, lime, crushed mint or cucumber. The kitchen faucet or tap is a perfectly reasonable and safe source for water in most American cities. However, parents may wish to filter their drinking water (e.g., through a filter system such as sold by Brita or Pur before it is consumed if their tap water's taste or appearance is off-putting.
Balancing Healthy Diet with Practical Reality
Today, nearly 25% of American children meet clinical criteria for obesity, meaning that their body weight is 20% higher or more than recommended based on age, sex, and physical build. Approximately 80 % of obese children remain obese into adulthood. Obesity, whether occurring during childhood or adulthood, is a substantial health risk, and is associated with increased risk of serious medical conditions including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, as well as premature death. It is thus very important that parents do what they can to prevent children from becoming obese.
Though preventing obesity is vital, it is nevertheless okay and good that children periodically be allowed to indulge in treats. A cupcake eaten at Jimmy's birthday party or a piece of fried chicken consumed during the family reunion can be special treats that allow children to grow up without feeling they have been deprived. Allowing children access to such foods on a regular (if not daily) basis also teaches an important lesson, namely that there are no foods that are so bad or awful that they can never be enjoyed. Teaching kids moderation, rather than deprivation helps them to avoid learning a kind of perfectionist thinking about food, namely that it is desirable to exert absolute control over one's eating, that some kids, especially young girls, go on to develop as teens which may make them particularly susceptible to developing Eating Disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa or a tendency towards yo-yo dieting or binge eating.
Importance of Shared Family Meals
Beyond just providing the fuel and nutrients for growing up healthy, eating can also be an activity that promotes social development and family bonding. One way to help this to occur is to create a tradition of shared family meals, where family members gather at a consistent time and eat the same food. Some families will be able to do this on a regular basis, while others will only be able to do it once a week. Some families will eat home cooked meals during this time, while others will go out to a restaurant. The absolute frequency of the event, or whether it takes place at home or not is not so important as that the shared meal occurs on a regular schedule so that children can come to depend on it as a regular and predictable feature of their lives. If families treat these shared meal times as enjoyable events featuring story telling, laughter and a feeling of inter-connectedness and mutual support, most children will become eager participants.
Inevitably, children grow to become more independent of their parents. By late middle childhood, children may spend a considerable amount of time away from home, at school, engaged in clubs and sporting events, tutorial activities or simply hanging out with peers. As children grow older, shared family meal times become one of very few opportunities for parents to regularly have an open line of communication with their children. Starting a family tradition of shared meals early on and then maintaining it as children grow older and more independent can be a great way to stay connected to children, and informed about their friends, anxieties/frustrations, and triumphs.