Healthy eating habits? Most kids in developed countries currently consume nearly 90% of their daily calories from animal products and processed foods! This can make it very difficult to consume enough fruits and vegetables needed for optimal health. Did you know eating five serves of different colour vegetables daily can help combat against chronic diseases? Diseases which begin in childhood, though we may not see their effects until later in life. By the time your child has finished primary school, the foundation may already be in place for obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. A frightening thought.
But please don’t fear! Acting now can change the course of what may be to come. Here are 7 of my tips to help make those changes:
1) Be a Role Model
Often kids don’t do as we say, they do as we do. Are you, yourself, getting at least five serves of fruit and vegetables a day? Yes, at least five…
- Snack on vegetable sticks and dips, instead of the biscuit for your afternoon snack.
- Add a vegetable soup to dinner in winter or for the afterschool snack.
- In summer add a salad to your dinner and lunch.
- Have a yummy green smoothie, instead of the second coffee or tea.
- Ensure there are at least two serves of vegetables at dinner.
If you follow some of these, there is a high chance your kids will follow suit because they will emulate your actions.
2) Eat family dinners at the dining table
Set the habit of eating at the table – ideally as a family when possible and from when your kids are a young age. You will never regret this habit it you do it while they are young.
As they grow up it will be the norm and studies have shown that eating together has positive social, developmental, and behavioural benefits and tend to give children a sense of security and togetherness. Also, sitting down to eat your meal generally results in less snacking afterwards because your body is tuning into the process.
I personally find dinner a time to connect with my kids, chat about what has happened in their day. We often play a game where you must say the best thing and the worst thing that happened in the day. This is so insightful as they grow up and helps us, as parents, to stay tuned into their lives. We all know how quickly they grow up!
If you haven’t yet – turn off the TV, phones and devices and sit down and enjoy your dinner.
3) Make rules about unhealthy snacks and drinks
Saying no to unhealthy snacks and drinks may backfire on you and result in your child craving them. And sometimes it’s just not realistic.
So, it’s important to teach your child healthy habits and set rules about snacks – for example restricting package snacks to only one day, or every second day or weekly.
And remember if it isn’t in the house, they (and you) can’t eat it or drink it.
4) Don’t tell your child they only get dessert if they eat their vegetables.
This can teach kids to hate vegetables by making vegetables seem like a punishment and dessert seem like a reward. If you do enjoy a dessert, let it just be a part of the whole experience, and not made into a big deal. It also helps to not serve dessert every day. If you have desserts a couple times per week (or less), they won’t become habit forming.
5) Make vegetables more appealing
Kids are much more likely to eat vegetables and fruits when they look appealing. Here are some suggestions:
- Cut vegetables into fun and appealing shapes like stars.
- Package or serve vegetables with their favourite cartoon character or on a special character plate.
- Call vegetables a fun name, for instance referring to broccoli as trees.
- Serve vegetables with sauces and dips e.g. streamed cauliflower with cheese.
- Cook vegetables in different ways – roast cauliflower stems and florets, grill asparagus with lemon or blend spinach into smoothies or put it into wraps.
- When cooking something new, call it a crazy name. As a child, I remember my dad calling a meal ‘The cement mixer meal’ – it was a play on words (we had been mixing real cement that day). He had mixed meat and vegetables together with butter Irish style.
I recently tried it on my 9-year-old when she was eating something she didn’t like the look of and it worked! Don’t be afraid to get creative and have fun with it all.
6) Get Kids Involved
Kids love to eat foods they prepare themselves. Obviously start off with age appropriate tasks, e.g. fetching and washing the vegetables, peeling to chopping vegetables. When my kids were smaller they loved chopping the herbs with a rocking vegetable chopper knife (which is really safe to use). Teaching and talking about where food comes from and the benefits of eating whole foods can work wonders on their little brains. We all know our kid’s brains are like sponges – ready to absorb anything. Preparing food together is a great time to have that conversation.
7) Be Patient and have fun with it
It takes time to build new habits. On average, it takes 8-15 tastes of a new food to develop an affinity for it! So be patient and HAVE FUN.