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To your health: How to introduce your kids to healthy eating

Update: August, 28/2017 - 08:00
Dr. Philippe Jean Collin.— Photo Courtesy of Family Medical Practice Hanoi
Viet Nam News

By Dr. Phillippe Jean Collin*

Raising healthy children is never an easy task. Add the extra challenge of moving to a new country with strange and exotic foods and vastly different cultural practices, and it’s easy to understand why many parents are left puzzled over how and what to feed their children.  

Whether you are concerned that your children are eating too much, or too little, these basic principles can help you to establish healthy eating habits for your children. 

Avoid Rewards: The role of parents is to provide a variety of healthy foods and a calm environment for meals, whereas the child should decide what to eat and how much of each food to eat.  Instead of the traditional approach of parents pushing their children to eat their vegetables and promising rewards such as sweets for eating their meals, dessert could even be served with the meal.  Are you shocked?  Actually, by using certain foods as “reward” or “treats” you cause children to believe they are actually better or more desirable.  In addition, they may be overeating beyond their level of hunger in order to finish the meal to get the reward.  Have you ever heard an adult say that they were rewarding themselves with chocolate or another high-calorie food?  Habits established in childhood can lead to a lifetime of poor eating habits and overeating.

Don’t Be a Push-Over:  Another tendency is to just give children anything they want.  Although there is no harm in occasional intake of sweets or high-calorie foods, frequent consumption of snack foods and those with little or no nutritional value can lead to malnutrition and unhealthy weight gain.  Soda, snack chips, and ice cream are cheap and available on every street shop in Hà Nội.  If your children are old enough to walk to the shops, chances are they are buying them.  Even if your children are too young to go out on their own, many parents and house helpers crumble at their children’s cries for treats and often give in to make them happy.  As difficult as it is, children need to understand that healthy eating is about balance. While ice cream one or two times per week is fine, a soda with every meal is not.  Set healthy limits for your children to enjoy treats occasionally. Consider the nutritional value of the treat as well. Ice cream provides some protein and calcium, while soda and candy have nothing but sugar. 

Be a Role Model:  In addition to having good boundaries about food choices, parents should also be mindful that children learn a lot about eating from their families.  Children will quickly learn to avoid certain foods if their parents never eat them, or to try new foods if they see their parents eating them often.  When parents offer a variety of foods at the meal, including vegetables, children will be more adventurous to try them.  Instead of forcing children to eat vegetables, the simple act of them seeing you enjoy those foods will encourage them to try over time.  Likewise, when children see their parents drinking soda or eating fast food, that, too becomes more desirable.  

Get the Kids Involved:  Take your kids to the market or grocery store to pick out new foods and allow them to help plan meals. Children are much more likely to try something new if they were involved in picking it out or preparing it.  Young children could help peel vegetables or mix ingredients for a salad.  Older children could help prepare simple foods or even look on the Internet to find a new recipe and help make it. 

No matter if your children are young, or older, these basic principles can help you establish a good foundation of healthy habits.  Take advantage of the great variety of fresh fruit and vegetables available in Việt Nam while you are here and encourage your children to try something new.  By modeling good habits rather than forcing or enticing your children to eat healthy foods, you will set a positive outlook on foods that will stay with them for life!

At Family Medical Practice Hanoi, nutrition consultation is available for healthy children, as well as those with nutrition-related concerns such as obesity and feeding problems. Consultation is based on background information about the child’s health and current measurements, and our pediatricians will work with you to ensure the optimal nutrition status of your child based on their needs and lifestyle.— Family Medical Practice Vietnam

* Dr. Philippe Jean Collin is a French Pediatrician with Family Medical Practice Hanoi. He is a member of the French Society of Pediatrics, American Society of Nephrologists, and the Pediatric Academy Societies.

For more advice on any medical topics, visit Family Medical Practice Hanoi on 298I Kim Mã, Ba Đình or call (024) 3843 0748. Email: or check out

FMP’s downtown HCM City location is at Diamond Plaza, 34 Lê Duẩn, District 1; Other facilities are at: 95 Thảo Điền Street, District 2. Tel: (028) 38227848.

FMP Danang is located at 96-98 Nguyễn Văn Linh Street, Hải Châu District, Đà Nẵng. Tel: (0236) 3582 699. E:


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