Getting your kids to eat healthier
By Milena Minichiello, functional nutritionist
“Eating habits are a learned behaviour!”
We seem to have lost the ability to eat intuitively as the food industry has become more driven towards consumerism. We are disconnected from our true food sources and operate on a ‘fast food is good food mentality’.
We are not powerless! It is up to us as parents and care givers to take back control as food education and eating behaviours of our children are our responsibility. This is more true now than ever before!
It’s important to know that it is never too late to start making healthier choices for yourself and your family. The important thing is to start and make healthy eating a priority.
Here a some simple tools to help encourage better food habits in your families life.
Be a role model! – you are your families greatest influencer. Set an example for healthy eating. If you are a fussy eater, this is your chance to challenge yourself and use your children as motivation. If they see you making poor choices or not eating your veggies, there is no chance they are going to listen to you when you place a ‘healthy’ option in front of them.
Grow your own! – choose easy to grow veggies such as spinach, chard, lettuce, herbs and plant them as a family. Kids love to see the magic of how things grow.
Getting them to pick greens they grew for their salad is so rewarding. Visiting a local orchard, farmers market or dairy farm and involving them in conversations with producers is a fun way to get them intrigued. Many children think food comes in packages from a supermarket and have no idea that good food can come from nature.
Get them in the kitchen! – children gain such a huge sense of accomplishment from cooking something or even just being involved in the process. They see themselves as a valued contributor to the family and their self esteem will soar. Encourage them to do age appropriate tasks in the kitchen ie: breaking up salad leaves, picking herbs, chopping veggies into cubes, mashing potato, tossing salad with olive oil with their hands and rolling meatballs are some easy ways they can help.
Touching, smelling and tasting along the way is essential to get their senses interested and educated.
You don’t have to like it but try it! – Often kids will hesitate to eat ‘healthy’ foods as they think we will force them to like it. They want to have the control. Suggest they just take one bite, they don’t have to like it but trying is a must. Persist with presenting foods they dislike as their taste buds will mature (due to eating less processed foods) and they will surprisingly start to like things they never did.
Make healthy options available! – get rid of the junk! If it’s in the house, it an option. Make healthy options such as bowls of fruit, cut up raw veggie sticks, nuts & seeds easy to reach for them. Kids like to feel in control of their choices.
After school snacks need not be packeted, they can be a delicious and simple smoothie, a piece of fruit, organic plain yoghurt with some cut up fruit or veggie sticks dipped in homemade hummus.
Eat together! – schedules can make this hard but if you are able to, try to make it a priority as often as possible to eat dinner together. Once again, you are setting an example, being their influencer. It is the best time to discuss their day and also talk about food related topics. The best conversations are had over a meal and this is also where children are more likely to experiment with foods they may not try if left alone to eat.
Talk about it! – kids are inquisitive! They like to be treated like adults and involved in making family choices. Discuss openly why you are making the healthy changes you are and ask them how they can help or what they think would be healthier choices the family can make. Discuss openly why you choose to make healthy eating a priority and also when it’s ok to be flexible.
Don’t give up! – Too often children are offered an alternative to what is on offer. This is where honest and committed communication becomes helpful – Explaining what your goals are for them and the family is important.
Insist on their involvement at meal times or prepare a family meal together once a week where you get to talk and discuss the food you’re making. Try making their favourite meal in a healthier way?!
Children need to be aware of the benefits of food that is grown in the ground versus ‘food like substances’ (processed foods) that offer very little nutritional value. Explain to your child the potential consequences of consuming too many processed items and how they will affect your families health.
Make a conscious effort to get the family involved. There truly is no better way to achieving your health goals and making them stick!
Always remember balance and variety are key. Be flexible with the occasional treat as children hate to feel deprived. As your skills grow you can make ‘healthy treats’ together and discuss why they still taste yummy but are actually healthy for them. This is where it gets fun and you know you’re really developing a health mindset with your children!
Yours in health,