Tricks to Get Your Children to Eat Healthfully
A mum of three shares tried-and-true nutrition tips
Studies have shown that life-long eating habits are formed early, and that parents have the biggest influence
If you’ve ever struggled to slip those essential fruits and vegetables into your child’s diet, or you worry that your children may actually turn into a bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese, keep reading! As a mum and naturopathic physician I have become an expert at balancing the goals of raising a healthy family with the unpredictability of daily life. While my ideals haven’t changed, I’ve had to find new, quick, and easy ways to help my family eat healthy and stay happy.
Studies have shown that life-long eating habits are formed at an early age, and that parents have the biggest influence on children’s food choices. With that in mind, I developed these tips to make sure that my three children will grow up eating well, and will also enjoy what they eat:
When my oldest started school, she discovered all sorts of new and unhealthy snacks. Don’t try to hide things that children love, just look for healthier alternatives like homemade fruit juice iced lollies, and whole-grain or multigrain foods instead of refined flour pastas, breads, and biscuits. Instead of fizzy drink, try juice diluted with carbonated water.
Don’t give up
It’s funny: one day my children may gobble down stems of broccoli, other days they’ll leave it to wither on the plate. We’ve found that if we keep putting a food in front of them that our children will eventually taste, if not like, it.
We avoid making special meals for our children by always including at least one food we know they’ll like, and making sure that “problem” foods become part of a well-liked meal. Some of our favourites: spinach and squash puréed into a pasta sauce, chicken enchiladas filled with sweet peppers and courgettes, and pita pocket hummus sandwiches topped with shredded carrots and cucumbers.
Eat the rainbow
We try to include a colourful blend of vegetables at meal time both for nutrients and to appeal to our children’s visual senses. A favourite trick: We set up a salad bar and have a contest to see which child can get the most colours on their plate. Try it out: shredded beetroot, sliced carrots, chopped purple cabbage, cauliflower florets, tomatoes, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, cucumbers, bell pepper slices, dried cranberries, and a couple of different dressings.
Look out for taste triggers
Pay attention to what your children like. One of ours likes vinegar, another likes sweet. While it may seem hard to please them both, it can be easier than you think. Cooked carrots release the sugars to make them sweeter, but a sprinkle of vinegar after cooking can add a bit of sour.
Get children involved
When at the supermarket, let the children manage the produce part of the shopping list—challenge them to pick the freshest, best they can find. Even if it takes a little more time, invite children into the kitchen to chop, spread, strain, or simply put the food on plates. We also started trying variations on favourite foods, which we write down as special family recipes. Jump in with something easy and flavourful: build smoothies together using a variety of frozen fruits, 100% fruit juices, soya or rice milks, and low-fat yoghurts. When you find the perfect blend, write it down and later let your children make their own.
Nicole Pierce, ND, is a mother of three who enjoys reading magazines and dreaming about the elaborate meals she will cook once her children are all in school.