Every parent wants to raise healthy kids. Here are some tips and techniques, from our partner in health AIA Vitality, to create positive life-long relationships with food for your children. I have reproduced the article below or you can go straight to the AIA Vitality website.
To raise healthy kids, it’s important to start teaching them positive eating habits from an early age. That said, kids can be notoriously fussy, so teaching them to eat more of the good stuff and to steer clear of food that’s detrimental to their health, can be a challenge.
While ‘hiding’ nutritious food in your kids’ meals works to an extent, we prefer flipping the script and raising kids who actually like vegetables. (Yes, they exist.)
Here are some tips and techniques to keep front of mind when it comes to planning mealtimes with your kids.
Variety is the spice of life
Forcing your kids to eat vegetables or fruits they have told you they dislike can lead to deep-rooted negative feelings about those foods. Sally Girvin, a paediatric dietician and a member of the Dietitian’s Association of Australia, says, “The more pressure that we put on children to eat certain foods, the less likely they are going to want to try it.”
Instead, offer up a variety of fruit and vegetable choices and ask them which ones they like best.
“What I usually suggest is to always offer a ‘non-preferred food’ with the ‘preferred food’ at most meals and snacks,” says Sally. “So, if your child only eats apples, offer them a cut up fruit platter that has apples, but also some other fruits like strawberries, grapes or pears.
“This is based on the ‘Division of Responsibility’ developed by Ellen Satter, a Dietitian in the USA. The principal point is the parent decides what, where and when to provide food, and the child can decide how much or how little they wish to eat.”
Take ‘good’ and ‘bad’ out of your food vocabulary
Labelling food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ creates a black-and-white view of nutrition. The problem with this binary language is that parents often use unhealthy foods as treats and rewards, which frames them as more desirable.
“Using food to bribe your children doesn’t work,” says Sally. “Statements such as ‘eat your vegetables or you won’t get dessert’ indicate to the child that the vegetables are undesirable foods.”
Instead, put the benefits of eating well into terms your kids understand. “We need to show kids that our bodies are amazing and we need to look after them,” says Sally.
For example, if your child loves to play sports, explain that lean proteins and leafy greens will give them what they need to fuel their energy and perform better on the field. By creating a more holistic approach to food, kids can better understand the benefits of eating well in the long term, instead of feeling shame for consuming ‘bad’ foods in the short term.
Lead by example
Parents need to show, not just tell, their kids that eating fruit and vegetables is enjoyable. “Parents need to have a healthy relationship with food themselves. Many parents I see want their kids to eat fruit and vegetables but don’t do so themselves,” says Sally.
This also applies for body image and self-esteem. Sally suggests parents avoid “talking about being ‘fat’, needing to go on a ‘diet’, or cutting out the ‘junk food’”.
Redirect, don’t restrict
Regardless of how encouraging you are of good eating habits, your kids are going to encounter unhealthy food as they grow up. These foods are often fried, loaded with sugar, or high in saturated fats. As a result, they taste good, but lack any real nutritional value.
Instead of nagging them about staying away from these foods, set some clear fuss-free boundaries. “Just remind them that they are ‘sometimes food’ and, as the parent, you decide when that ‘sometime’ is,” says Sally.
You can also try to redirect them to healthier options.
- In the place of French fries, roast some potatoes at home or make some stovetop popcorn.
- Opt for fruit like strawberries or bananas dipped in a small amount of melted darker chocolate to replace lollies.
- Sub out store-bought cake or ice cream for homemade banana bread or a bowl of natural Greek yoghurt with fruit and a small drizzle of honey.