From pouring their own drink to tying their own shoe, teaching children to do things for themselves lines the path for a healthy, happy and independent future. Let’s face it – we won’t always be there to hold our children’s hands, so teaching them to look after themselves is crucial.
When it comes to food, what, when and how your child eats sets up lifelong habits that can either be hugely beneficial, or alarmingly unhealthy. It’s not always a case of teaching kids how to eat with a for k, it’s more a case of teaching what to put on the fork that’s important.
Healthy eating is important for strong bones, teeth, muscles and a healthy heart. It helps maintain healthy weight, promotes optimal body function, and keeps the brain sharp and ready to learn. But not all kids understand this, so it’s up to their parents and caregivers to guide them.
For many parents, helping children develop a love for what’s healthy can be a challenge, and with the hectic pace of many family households, it can sometimes seem easier to tolerate less than desirable eating habits if it means easy meal times. What happens then, however, is that children – following the guidance from their caregivers – believe it’s perfectly acceptable to live on nuggets, chips and beans for every meal. Is it? No!
A healthy diet means eating a wide variety of foods from each of the five food groups, in the amounts recommended. The five major food groups from the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating are:
So how do you get kids to choose foods from these groups on their own?
If you involve your kids in planning meals, going grocery shopping, growing foods and preparing foods, they will become invested in the process and be more likely to eat well. Even toddlers – who may be too young to make lists – can get involved by selecting the apples and pears and helping make simple recipes such as frozen yoghurt popsicles.
Instead of throwing out your weekly grocery catalogues, cut out the different foods and make a game using all the pieces. Offer your child a piece of card that’s divided into two halves – an “Everyday” half and an “Occasional” half. Give them a glue stick and encourage them to paste the items in the appropriate half.
If the kitchen is packed exclusively with healthy snacks, your kids will have no choice but to eat them when they are hungry. Give them independence by keeping these healthy snacks in handy-to-reach places and they’ll soon become first choice over hard-to-find chips and lollies. When packing a lunch box, be sure to fill it with good choices such as carrot sticks, sultanas, wholegrain crackers and sliced apples.
Kids like to feel some responsibility for what they eat, and enjoy being given freedom at meal times. But this doesn’t mean you should ask them what they want! To avoid cooking four different meals to suit every taste, find dishes that share one main base but allow for optional additions. Meals such as tacos, salad bars and build-your-own-bruschettas are perfect when you have many different taste buds to cater to.
Kids love to know where things come from, and understanding the source of their food can help them form an attachment. Arrange a trip to a dairy farm and let your child drink milk fresh from the cow. Visit a berry farm and pick fruit straight from the plant. Shop at the farmer’s market and talk to different producers.
What you eat greatly influences what your children eat, so be a good influence and make healthy choices. If your child sees you opt for the burger and chips when out for lunch, they’ll want it too, so instead consider ordering the warm chicken salad.
There are some great apps designed to teach kids about nutrition, including: Healthy Food Monsters, Healthy Heroes, and Awesome Eats. Harnessing the power of technology is a great way to teach mundane subjects such as healthy eating.
They say that children need multiple exposures (around 10) before they’ll even consider eating something new, so don’t give up just because they turned their nose up once or twice. Keep popping it on the side of their plate and every so often, invite them to take a bite.
Kids respond well to hidden messages rather that direct instructions and there are some classic books that never grow old. The Hungry Caterpillar distinguishes between the foods that make us feel sick and those that are good for us, Green Eggs and Ham highlights the importance of trying new foods, and Eat Your Peas is a funny book about dinnertime that will appeal to fussy eaters.
Get creative with your plating and make mealtime fun by turning your lunch into a piece of art. Try this cute ladybug sandwich, this clever Humpty Dumpty creation or make snacktime on the road more interesting by turning your healthy snacks into butterflies.
Slowing the pace to at least 30 seconds between bites gives the body a chance to send and receive fullness signals after eating just the right amount of food. Make a game of it with your kids to teach them to eat their food more slowly instead of eating as quickly as possible.
Regular family meals promote positive eating habits and if everyone on the table is eating healthy, your child will likely want to follow suit. Be sure to eat at the table, and turn off any distractions such as the TV or mobile devices.