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Healthy eating tips for children

7 ways  to get your children into healthy eating

Throughout my life I’ve always really enjoyed healthy food. I could quite easily live off grain-filled salads, pulses and vegetables. And this I credit my parents with. In spite of not having the healthy eating drive, resources and research we do now while I was growing up in the 80s as the daughter of a doctor and nurse, my parents always encouraged us to eat well. While my friends brought Wotsits in for their school break, we were given fruit, or as a special treat, water biscuits. We never had a sweetie drawer or a biscuit tin. We ate three meals a day - with fruit for pudding.

As I read that one third of children today are either overweight or obese, I am grateful for this simple lifestyle choice that my parents made. They didn’t ban sweets or chocolate, but carefully succeeded in fostering a love of fresh fruit, vegetables and healthy eating. And this is something I was adamant about passing on to my children.

And then the reality kicks in. What better way of shutting an irritable child up than giving them a snack. While tantrums are pretty awful for anyone to witness, it is worst for the poor, sleep-deprived mother. It’s because of this that mothers (including myself) will often take the easy road. The day to day challenges of raising children is tough and sometimes you just need give in.

But healthy eating though isn’t an all or nothing scenario. One of the reasons that the Honestly Healthy concept appeals to me is that you don’t have to be good all of the time. Natasha’s practical and honest mantra of being careful 70% of the time is achievable and something that can be passed on to our children.

When I think about ingredients, it’s all about bang for your buck. We all have to consume calories to function; the real trick is to eat foods that will give you long lasting energy, enduring brain power, glowing skin and lustrous hair. And this is a concept that is not hard for children to grasp. Knowledge of basic nutrition will enable children to grow up understanding that the reason their mother won’t let them eat chocolate for breakfast is because they love them, rather than because they are a miserable old witch. It will encourage them to be adventurous and try different foods that they are unfamiliar with and may not look particularly appealing.

And the earlier you start the easier it is. This week over two and a half million children are expected to take part in Healthy Eating Week. Over a 7,000 schools have signed up to an initiative spearheaded by the British Nutrition Foundation that will help children understand the importance of healthy eating, the fun in cooking and nurture a curiosity for the provenance of the food on their plates. As I consider the obesity statistics that are increasing at an alarming speed in children, I’m convinced that a healthy understanding of basic nutrition is as important as literacy.

A recent BBC survey suggested that half of children do not eat a single portion of fruit or vegetables a day. For those whose diet does not include fruit and vegetables, eating ‘five a day’ seems like a huge thing. But actually, with a few lifestyle changes, it’s achievable to get even the most fussy children to start eating and even liking nutritious foods.

Here are some ways to encourage your children:

  1. Make sure they understand why eating well is good for them. Depending on their age you can make up stories to encourage them to understand basic nutrition. From the beginning, I told my children about the “fighters” in nutritious food. As we sit around the table, I regale them with tales of these culinary superheroes, which would make them stronger, bigger, faster and cleverer. As well as distracting my imaginative offspring, it created an understanding and appreciation about why I attach such importance to eating.
  2. Make an effort to eat healthily yourself. Adults lead by example and regardless of whether you snack on Maltesers or carrots, they will want to do the same.
  3. Drinking plenty of water is a crucial part of our diet. Get your children used to drinking water as a default, rather than juice. If you meet resistance, gradually water their juice down over a month until it’s practically all water.
  4. Sneak healthy foods into well-loved meals. We make our own ice lollies, with frozen fruit blended with yoghurt, almond milk and sweetened with agave nectar, dried fruit or apple juice. Another favourite are mini sorbets made by freezing grapes.
  5. Think creatively about the carbs. If your children love pasta, try changing their meals to incorporate some giant couscous, spelt, quinoa or lentils. Make the changeover gradual – couscous and pesto is a great favourite alongside a piece of grilled fish.
  6. Making “dip dip sauces” is a great way of sneaking vegetables into your children’s diet. Children like the act of dipping – so instead of serving ketchup, make your own tomato sauce.
  7. Green smoothies can be made to taste good for children and are a great way of getting your children to eat those vital greens. Play around with flavours, introducing the harder to palate flavours like kale slowly. Use coconut water, agave nectar and dried fruit to sweeten and make sure your children understand how these superhero smoothies are making them stronger.

By Marina Fogle

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