So much of my time seems to be taken up with food – buying it, chopping it, cooking it, and eating it. Well the fact is that food plays such a huge part in our lives, and we are being taught more and more about how important it is to be careful in the kitchen and stick to the fresh, the wholegrain, the low GI and all the other buzz words that are flying around – don’t forget superfoods (I like that one).
I know just as well as anyone else that keeping meal times healthy is not always the easiest, fastest nor quietest way to go. The temptation to rely on open and serve meals and methods is a strong one, and for those for whom the kitchen is a scary place it feels like the only option. But feeding time at the zoo doesn’t have to be a nightmare, I can’t perform miracles however I have picked up a couple of skills in the art of getting the kids eating right as much as is humanly possible. And rest assured, hard as I might try, I am happy if they have eaten well five nights a week and have kept the cheese on toast to a minimum.
- Teach your kids the difference between healthy and unhealthy food. We use a lot of encouragement such as: “healthy food makes you grow big and strong” and “good food is good for your brain” and “eating well will make you run fast!” It is fantastic to see my eldest now saying these things to the younger two, because I think the repetition helps to make it well-known fact to them.
- At a preschool talk by representatives from the Munch and Move Campaign I picked up a great piece of advice: juice is not a necessary part of daily nutrition. The only drinks we need to offer are water and milk. I haven’t bought any juice since, except for special occasions. I believe doing this has removed excess sugar from our diets, and the kids didn’t really mind. If there is juice in the fridge, it will get drunk and then NOT replaced. One of the best decisions I ever made for my kids health. Of course there are extreme situations where a quick sugar hit is needed, but getting the kids into good habits young will help them for the rest of their lives.
- Keep an eye on Fast Food intake. I am going to hazard a guess here and say that cutting off the occasional visit to the food court completely is an unreachable goal, but try to be mindful. If we label it some of the time food instead of all of the time food (thanks Harmony and Rhapsody) and then stick to it as best you can. Take out is sometimes the only option, I haven’t ever met anyone who has a portable kitchen they carry around in the boot of their car, but if I have the choice of a quick burger now or just go home and whip up a sandwich, I go for the sandwich as often as I can and then I don’t feel too worried on the days when I cave to convenience.
- You can buy just about any meal in a packet these days, which adds variety to the kitchen for sure, but I prefer to make meals from scratch (or as scratch as one can get without making my own bread). Yes I know this isn’t always easy, and I don’t mean to pick the most complicated meals you can find in the supermarket and try to replicate them, but the beauty of this is that you know EXACTLY what has gone into the cooking process. A nifty trick is to try out a new flavour dish for the kids using a packet (or similar) and if they like it have a little google and see if you can’t make it yourself. It is surprising how easy some are and it also encourages you to have more base ingredients around, which feeds into the whole process.
- Healthy snacking – suggest fruit first. When I was a kid I didn’t eat much fruit, and when we were milling around the kitchen foraging for food my mum would say “have a piece of fruit” and we would mumble and grumble and walk away hungry. When my kids are doing the same thing I not only suggest fruit, but I cut it up for them and put it on a plate in front of them, it always gets eaten. And then if they ask for a biscuit afterwards, I will be much more obliging.
- I pack good lunches (well at least I attempt to), focusing on proteins, grains and vegetable. For some suggestions you can check out my lunchbox ideas. Our local preschool got me into a good routine as they requested that we send fruit for morning tea, and the habit has remained. Get into good routines.
- If they are fussy eaters, a good way to make them more aware of what they eat is to take them on the shopping trip with you and get them involved in the food choices. Obviously you will need to make some suggestions and possibly steer them in the direction you favour, but teaching them about what kinds of food there is and giving them some power might help them in the eating department.
- I like to try to find healthy alternatives to junk food. If you can find something good to replace something unhealthy, do it. A couple of examples are switching ice-cream for yoghurt or making your own fish fingers. Some will be easy and some won’t, but if you can swap chips for rice crackers then you’re one step ahead. As mentioned above, involve them in the choosing and see how they go.
- One of the best ways to show kids how to make good food choices is to set a good example. Yes yes this is a tough one but it is worth it for them, and for ourselves too. Sometimes when my toddler is adamant that he wants a bag of chips and not a banana, I will sit and share the fruit with him to which he is always delighted. If you can manage to, sitting down with the kids and eating with them will make meal times enjoyable and special, and might even speed up the slow eaters.
- And one last way to encourage healthy eating with the kids is to bring them into the kitchen to help with the cooking. It might drive you a little nuts, and it will definitely slow things down in there so be warned! My kids all love helping out in the kitchen, and I think it makes them keener to eat having seen how it was made. Furthering their knowledge of food will (hopefully) help them to make good nutritionally sound decisions.
At the end of the day we just all want to be happy and healthy right? As a mum (and superwoman) of course I want my kids to eat everything on their plate, but I try not to push the issue with them either. The no dessert unless your bowl is empty rule is written in stone in my house, but I really don’t like harping on and on and on and making meals more shouty than they need to be. I am quite careful about how I talk about healthy eating with my kids because I don’t want them to develop weight or body issues. I never complain that I am fat or say that I am unhappy with my body, and I stress healthy eating for healthy bodies, not for weight control. If you find that even these hints haven’t helped you or the kids at all and you are concerned about eating habits and particular foods, then please please please go to seek professional health advice – and Google doesn’t count.
Emma Eastman 2013