We all know the struggle of feeding a child or a teenager properly. We've all passed through this age, or we have a youngster living with us at the moment. The world offers tempting foods, and even though some are too delicious to escape, we could fight the urge to choose a fast-food hamburger (and fries).
Children develop their taste preference from a young age and hold their eating habits to adulthood. So, concerns on kids' food education are not just because they are small and unfamiliar with most ingredients, but as it influences how adults eat and their health. And in these times of first discoveries of tastes, textures, and colors, it's important to reinforce their diets introducing vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and legumes.
The good news is that yes, Finland is a great place to raise a child. In fact, it is the 16th best place for healthy children, in a report by WHO-Unicef-Lancet Commission of 180 countries. In another report, Finland appears in 3rd when it comes to happiness in young ages. Is happiness considered also because kids have more freedom and independence over choosing what to eat?
Over one-third of Finnish children between eight and ten years old doesn't eat any fruits or vegetables at home, and this proportion is even bigger with boys. A large part of this group eat very few vegetables, for reasons that go from taste to bad examples - not just at home, but from role models like athletes and the apparent lack of greens in their plates and media appearances.
Another thing boys take as an example is brushing their teeth. Only 35 per cent of boys, and more than 60 per cent of girls, brush their teeth twice a day. This is also concerning, as normally men take this habit less seriously than women. In a 2017 report from FinTerveys, over half of the men over the age of 30, and four-fifths of women of the same age, reported brushing their teeth at least twice a day.
When we think about candy consumption, this is even more distressing. Eating habits of children and adolescents predispose teeth to cavities and erosion damage. In fact, 63 per cent of Finnish kids between 3 and 6 years old have a candy day, when they are mostly free to gorge on sweets, candies, and soft drinks. Some parents see this opportunity to reward their children for something, or just to avoid any naughtiness. The appetite for candies is not exclusive for kids in preschool, but all ages. A WHO report puts Finland in the 9th position in sugar consumption with 91.5 g per day when the daily recommended portion is 25 g.
Kindergartens have very different positions regarding snack time around the country. Some are still serving meals high on sugar, with a justification that it's easier to make a child eat these kinds of products, especially if the child is not used to a sugar-free diet. In many schools around larger cities, like Helsinki, organic ingredients are used more frequently for a broader education around the origin of the food. Knowing where the food comes from is also an important part of learning.
School meals are considered very important for the civil constitution of children. In 2016, the "National core curriculum for early childhood education and care" was issued by the Finnish National Agency for Education. Balanced meals and food education in kindergartens and preschools are not just to help children's eating skills, but also to teach about environmental education. Responsible behaviour related to meals, saving energy and reducing food losses are practised, and the children are guided to pay attention to the consequences of their actions and current sustainable values.
So, it's more than important that parents and schools combine forces for the sake of the community's growth and health. It's a way to construct a positive vision towards a diverse and healthy diet for the whole family. And maybe green on a plate will not be a color that kids run away from, but accept it happily as we wish.
Photo: Patrick Fore on Unsplash