Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and their risk factors, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, have been rising and affecting large segments of the population.
NCDs are mainly a result of our unhealthy lifestyle, especially our poor eating habits. In fact, our diet can significantly affect our health, either positively or negatively.
As parents, you have a huge influence over your family’s eating habits. It is important to teach and expose your children to healthy eating from early childhood, so they will continue to practise it as they grow up. This is the only way to prevent NCDs in your family.
Most people usually start with a new year’s resolution to eat healthily or go on a diet and strive for radical changes, hoping for immediate results. Healthy eating does not mean that you need to have a total diet overhaul or shun your family’s favourite foods.
All you need to focus on are small, positive changes in your family’s daily routine and choice of foods, and make them something attainable and sustainable. With consistent effort, everyone will reap the long-term benefits of healthy eating (and active living).
Here are some suggestions to kick-start small changes in your family’s eating habit.
This is the first meal that begins your day, so do not skip it. Breakfast provides the body with sufficient energy to keep you and your child energised to start the day.
However, a study by the Nutrition Society of Malaysia in 2015 found that one in four school children skipped breakfast at least thrice a week. Breakfast skippers are 1.3 times more likely to become overweight or obese.
If you are a busy parent, you can prepare your family’s breakfast in advance. For example, mix pancake batter at night and cook the next morning. Healthy ready-to-eat breakfast foods, such as wholegrain cereal, oat drinks, bread with healthy spreads, fruits or milk, are also more convenient.
Most people eat out for lunch as they go to work or classes. However, eateries tend to have diverse options, tempting us to make unhealthy choices. Eating out is quite unavoidable for many people; but we must choose wisely.
Choose healthier dishes and watch out for portion sizes (refer to healthier eating-out tips below). Alternatively, prepare a healthy home-cooked lunch for you to bring to the office, and for your child to bring to school or nursery.
Snacks are food we have between main meals, but children should try to avoid snacking close to main mealtimes. Watch out for high-calorie snacks and remember not to overeat. During morning or afternoon breaks, avoid kuih, cookies or chips that are high in sugar, salt or fat.
You can indulge in your favourite snacks, like cakes and ice-cream occasionally. However, do choose smaller portions and those with lower calories, without cream/filling/icing.
This is the best time to eat together with your family and flaunt your cooking skills. Cook at home as often as you can for total control over the ingredients and methods of cooking.
To reduce usage of salt, opt for natural herbs and condiments, like garlic, onion, lemon grass or lemon, as flavour enhancers. Have a hearty meal by adding different-coloured vegetables into your soup dishes.
For convenience, use recipes where all ingredients are put in one pot and cooked slowly. Use dried herbs, pastes or stocks to save time. You can also cook a large batch on weekends, store in the freezer, and reheat for dinner on weekdays.
Another alternative is to cook one simple vegetable dish and buy the ready-cooked meat or protein dish.
Sometimes we cannot avoid eating out or ordering take-away meals due to our busy schedules. In that case, opt for dishes prepared with healthier cooking methods, e.g. boiled, baked, grilled or steamed.
Ask for more vegetables, and less sugar, salt and oil. Be cautious of high-fat foods such as cream- or santan-based dishes. If the portion is big, share the meal to avoid overeating and wasting.
Keep your family and yourself hydrated by drinking at least six to eight glasses of plain water a day. Reduce intake of sugar-sweetened beverages as these are high-calorie beverages. And when drinking coffee, tea or a chocolate beverage, opt for less or no sugar.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Start now with these small steps and build these healthy eating habits into your family’s life. This approach will make changes to dietary habits possible and more sustainable.
Healthy eating habits, in addition to an active lifestyle with regular physical activities, will be rewarding for the whole family in the long term. All this may sound very simple, but it is indeed that simple. However, you need to be consistent in making these changes.
Make time to change today!