First, let me start this by saying that I am not a dietitian/nutritionist/GP etc. I am a mum (who happens to be a Personal Trainer, Gym Manager and Health & Fitness enthusiast!). I understand that children’s eating/diet/habits can be a rather contentious issue, so this is only my own experience, views and beliefs. I have not lived with a child with severe allergies or a fussiness related to food. This is not meant as advice, it is simply my ramblings about my family, take from it what you will.
Children learn by the examples we set. As parents, we are the biggest role models and influence they will have. The same way they learn their values and morals is also the way they learn their lifestyle habits and food associations. With childhood obesity at an all time high (scary statistics), I am passionate about children learning the importance of healthy, nutritious food and forming good habits from a young age. I strongly believe we should be doing all we can to instill healthy food and lifestyle values in our children from the time they are tiny babies. Sure, when they get older they will make their own choices, and we are not with them 24/7, but if they are around a healthy family lifestyle for their entire childhood they are much more likely to continue living this way well into their adult years. Bad habits are hard to change (in adults and in children), so why not start off well and make it their ‘norm’.
Just last week, I started my 4 month old on her first taste of solids. So far she has enjoyed homemade rice cereal (so easy to make), avocado, steamed apples, pears and sweet potatoes. She is learning taste, texture and all sorts of other things. I let her ‘play’ with the food as I’m feeding it to her, not because I like the mess that’s for sure, but because these are all her very first experiences with food and I want it to be a positive and fun one. So far, so good, she seems to love it all. If she turns her nose up at something, that’s OK we will try again tomorrow. Persistence is key with children!
I love nothing more than watching my 7 year old daughter devour a plate of veggies. There is not much that kid won’t eat. Don’t get me wrong, she likes the not so healthy stuff too and she is a sucker for party food, she’s a kid after all and I want her to enjoy being a kid. We are not the worlds strictest parents by any stretch but we do promote balance, moderation and choices and it seems to be working well for us. The important thing is that she knows what food is better for you than others and that we eat predominantly healthy food and save other things for treats or special occasions. We do not eliminate or restrict other foods as I believe this ‘can’ lead to over indulgence, binge eating and poor choices later on in life, but we do limit them and always offer healthy alternatives. Everything in moderation!
Often Lily’s snacks and lunch look like this:
She loves a tasting plate, she’s a bit of a grazer and it is a great way to enjoy many different foods and you know what, it doesn’t always have to be eaten with a knife and fork and that makes her pretty happy.
My child has a very healthy appetite and some days I actually struggle to fill her. She does snack during the day (I think genetically she has a high metabolism like me) but she always eats her meals. She’s just a hungry kid, a lot of children aren’t and don’t need to eat a lot during the day and that’s OK too! We’re all different.
A few snacks Lily likes to eat include:
* Tuckers Natural Tiny Dippers. These are great because they are individual serves with just enough crackers and dip for little people. This is the Quinoa Crakers with Tomato Salsa Dip. We also love the Quinoa Crackers with Corn Dip. Yummo!
* Boiled eggs, avocado, carrot & cucumber sticks and dried fruit. These are all so easy to prepare and put on a plate.
* Smoothies (let them experiment with their own recipes and flavours)
* Multigrain wraps or mountain bread. Quite often she will just have one plain
* Spelt flour pancakes. I make up a big batch and freeze them individually. They are great in the school lunchbox (put them in frozen and they are ready by recess or lunch time). We also do the same with mini homemade cheesy-mite scrolls.
Lily has porridge for breakfast every morning (this is by choice there is not much else she likes for brekkie except pancakes some weekends). What I have found very interesting in the last few months is that from seeing me put chia seeds, diced apricots and blueberries on my oats every morning, she now chooses to do the same. Not because I told her to do it or did it for her but she made the choice and does it herself. This is, in my opinion, a much better way as it is more likely to stick with her rather than something I rammed down her throat, pardon the pun! She enjoys sprinkling them on and making her porridge look ‘pretty’.
Kids need to be involved in making choices about food. What we learn in our childhood, we take into our adulthood.
We discuss what is good and why it’s good for you and I let her help make things with me, which she loves. One of her favourite things to make is smoothies. After watching one of the ‘infomercials’ on TV she thought it would be a good idea to write her own smoothie recipe. She got all the ingredients out and made it herself. She absolutely loved it (the process and the end result) and she was so proud of herself that she could create something so yummy and healthy.
So, what are some things we do to ensure we are encouraging healthy habits?
1.) Eating together as a family every dinner time because I believe it is important. We also eat the same meals, our only variation is if we have a curry which Lily does not like, she will have the meat we are eating served with at least 3 vegetables and often a mountain bread wrap. I never take for granted how lucky I am to have a child that will eat almost anything and usually chooses to ear all her veggies before anything else. Some of her favourites are: broccolini, asparagus, corn, brussel sprouts and carrots.
2.) We stopped allowing TV viewing while eating breakfast as I was finding Lily wasn’t concentrating and it was taking her too long and she ended up rushing (with me constantly telling her to “hurry up, or we will be late for school”) or not finishing it. This has improved 100%, infact it has improved our entire morning routine so much there are no arguments or constant pleads all morning and everyone is much happier. I also believe this leads to a better association with food (specifically the importance of breakfast) as it is not associated to stress or rushing etc.
3.) Encourage trialing new foods or foods that perhaps she didn’t like last year. I never make a bit deal about foods Lily doesn’t like and I would never force her to eat something that she is old enough to know if she likes or doesn’t like. After all, we all have certain flavours, foods, spices etc that we don’t like so it’s not fair to expect a child to eat and enjoy everything put in front of them. What I do encourage, however, is revisiting certain foods to try them and see if her tastes have changed. If she tries it and still doesn’t like it, we leave it at that and praise her for trying it again. Fortunately Lily’s list of food she likes is HUGE and her dislikes are minimal.
4.) Involve her in weekly meal planning (asking for her input for certain weekly meals), shopping (get her to write the list) and preparation of food. We also discuss different types of food and why we chose some products rather than other ones. She has a pretty good knowledge of food. She also loves cooking shows and really got into Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules this year.
As I mentioned earlier, this is just a look at what we do as a family. It may not work for everyone. Maybe you already do all of that anyway, maybe there is one new thing that you can try and see if it works for your children? Keep encouraging healthy eating in children, they will thank you in the long run!
I thought this looked like a super cute idea. Notes on fruit in the school lunchbox would definitely make it more fun and exciting! (source – Pinterest)