Children require a nutritious, balanced diet to ensure healthy growth and development, concentration, enthusiasm and vitality. Yet we live in a world where we are easily seduced into regularly ‘treating’ our children with chemical laden, processed foods, and teaching them to consciously and happily eat whole foods has never been more challenging.
Over the past few years my friends and I have discovered plenty of ideas that have helped develop healthy food cultures in our homes. Here are some things we have learned on our journey…
• If possible start out right. Teach your toddlers to enjoy the flavour of fresh produce before they get hooked on processed, artificial tastes. If they are only exposed to homemade, freshly prepared, unsalted, unsweetened, naturally flavourful foods, this becomes the standard that other foods are compared to.
• As parents we are the most influential role models, so it is imperative to model healthy eating and provide an environment conducive to choosing healthy foods. Always remember YOU set the benchmark for what is considered ‘food’ in your household.
• Choose your battles…determine which vegetables your children do like, and then gradually introduce others instead of obsessing on the ones that are disliked.
• Practice some patience and persistence. On average it can take 10-12 tries before a child is accustomed to a new taste or texture.
• Encourage their participation in food preparation. Enlisting in their help will almost guarantee that they will be more enthusiastic about trying new things.
• Steer clear of kids menus- they assume your child is a ‘picky’ eater with an unsophisticated palette limited to deep fried brown and white foods.
• This brings me to my next crucial point…avoid negative labels such as ‘fussy’ and ‘picky’ eater!
• Make ONE meal that the entire family sit down, around the table, and enjoy together. Do not be led into the trap of giving children ‘special treatment’ of separately prepared meals at dinner time- indulging them in their fussiness could set up unconstructive behaviour patterns that will be hard to reset.
• Introduce grazing trays at any age. Include a variety of colours, flavours and textures for them to experience and broaden their food preferences.
• Be creative in how you prepare and talk to your children about foods they are skeptical about. Kids are concrete thinkers, “eat this because it is healthy” doesn’t really mean anything to them. However a green smoothie can suddenly become very appetising if it is going to make them super strong like Ben Ten, or skate better, run faster or make their hair shiny like a princess!
• Talk to kids about the cause and effect of eating junk vs healthy food. For example if your child feels sick after overindulging in junk food, discuss this with them so they understand that what they choose to eat greatly effects how they feel.
• Use constructive incentives to reward good behaviour. Using junk food as a reward or treat only teaches them positive associations to it.
• Plant an organic vegetable patch together so they are excited about growing and tasting their own produce.
• Work towards not having to hide vegetables. Tell your children what is in their food and why it is so good for them so they can learn to love vegetables on their merits. You do not want to send the message that vegetables are something to be endured instead of enjoyed.
• Challenge your children with fun games such as finding something ‘alive’ in every meal, eating ‘every colour of the rainbow’ each day in fruits and vegetables, or get them to drink more water with the mission of ‘keeping their pee clear’.
• Most importantly make food tasty, colourful and fun! Sometimes it pays to play with your food!