Want your child to eat healthier, but don’t know where to start?
Here are 10 tips to get you going. Don’t try to implement them all at once. Focussing on one a week and being consistent with it will do wonders long term! Let’s help kids understand foods and make better choices.
1. Have a wide variety of food in the home Exposure to different foods is key to getting children to try something a little different. Just seeing it, or seeing others enjoying it. Offer the new food, but don’t force them. It may take some time, but at some point, they will try. Want to really go for this? Why not set yourself a goal of trying at least 1 different fruit/vegetable/food every first shop of the month? It doesn’t have to be anything exotic, just something you would usually not buy.
2. Eat together Enjoying food together is a great social setting for the children and the family. Children see the food you enjoy, and get accustomed, over time, to those foods too. Provide all choices on the table. If the children are old enough to serve themselves, you may even consider putting all options in the middle of the table for everyone to help themselves. Don’t force any food on anyone, just let everyone choose what they like.
3. Talk positively about foods In our home we have the rule not to use words like ‘disgusting’ about foods. Foods may not be to one’s taste, they may be super yummy, a little bit nice etc. Strong negative words reinforce the bad impression your child has with the food. Don’t make a big deal during dinner on whether a food is liked or disliked. If you want to know what your child thought of the food, ask them when they finish to put their thumbs up on how much they liked it. You might be surprised how often thumbs go up – or maybe even make it halfway!
4. Learn about foods together The more children know about food, the more likely they are to try a food. The more they try a food, the more they will start liking a food. Many children suffer from Food Neophobia – this is the fear of trying new foods. You can overcome this by making foods more familiar. There are lots of ways to learn more about foods. Cook together. Shop together. Go to a farm together. Watch a food programme together. And the ultimate way to learn, grow fruits and vegetables from seeds together! Something like tomatoes, peppers or herbs is perfect to start with.
5. Cook the same meal for the whole family
Ok, this may be a difficult one. Especially if your children are used to having their ‘own’ food. Let’s stop this. Let’s make food that the whole family enjoys. You may have certain elements separately on the table – if you like spicy foods, and your kids don’t, serve the spices separately. If you are having pasta, rice etc, you may find it works better if you serve the sauce and any proteins (meat, cheese, tofu…) separately. Serving the sauce next to the carbohydrates and proteins lets your child choose if they want to mix it up, or just eat one of the elements. Or put bowls/pans on the table, so the children can choose which parts to eat. Don’t worry about them not touching certain parts. Remember tip 1? At some point they will.
And an important part of this rule (and probably the most difficult part): don’t let your kids have any other foods. This is what is on offer, take it or leave it …
6. Not finished your plate? You can still have dessert! Odd? I bet your parents used to make you finish your plate before you were allowed dessert? But what this really does is make the dessert even more attractive and puts the main meal in a bad light, reinforcing the child’s impression that meals aren’t that tasty. If you wish, you may choose a healthier dessert, such as a piece of fruit or a plain yoghurt.
7. It's fine not to finish their food Ok, this may have been covered above, but just to emphasise, don’t make your child finish their plate if they don’t want to. If they do want to eat everything, great! If they are happy to try all the parts, success! But if they are not up for it today, well that’s too bad, and you still exposed your child to the meal, so take it as a win!
8. Provides snacks in moderation Another key reason why children don’t want to eat their meal is because they simply aren’t hungry. All foods taste better when you are hungry. Try not to have your kids have snacks 1.5-2 hours before dinner. Frequent sugary snacks (& drinks) is also the main cause for tooth decay, so try to limit the number of eating occasions (to about 5 a day).
9. Make food fun! Make the eating environment a pleasant experience. It will help children feel relaxed and enjoy the time together. This includes trying not to be rushed when having a meal, setting the table, and presenting the food in a pleasant manner. Occasionally trying to make the food fun will be appreciated by most kids. Involve your children in this too. You can have a look at sites like Pinterest of Instagram for inspiration.
10. Stock up on better foods rather than junk food We all want a treat from time to time, but try to keep junk food just as that – a treat. Having less of it at home, makes it less accessible and more likely that your children will eat it. Try to buy more fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthier snacking options. Rice-crackers, breadsticks, dried fruits, cheese, bagels, crumpets or even pancakes are just some ideas. Always check labels, as some seemingly healthy snacks could have a lot of sugar in them.
EdiBee encompasses the above tips in our packed lunches. Making food an educational and fun experience for children, changing diets for the long run!