Working as a fitness professional and sports coach, has meant that I have always had a keen interest in nutrition. I am therefore confident to make healthy food choices for myself. However, when it comes to kids (especially my own!), all the knowledge in the world won’t help unless they understand how different foods effect their well-being, give them energy, help them grow etc.
I have always talked to my children about nutrition and healthy eating from a very early age. Even my five year old knows which choice is the healthy one and why, but it doesn’t mean he will always choose it! My worry is, once they are old enough to be making those decisions independently and away from my influence, will they make the right choices? I think, like everything in life, it’s all about balance and variety, but how do we instill that? How do we encourage our kids to make independent healthy food choices?
First step- Variety
The earlier children experience new tastes, flavours and texture, the more likely they will accept them. More variety of food in their diet, the easier it is for you to put together nutritionally balanced meals. The more healthy meals you have in your repertoire, the more they have to choose from.
Our house moto is ‘its good to try’.
I really praise my kids for trying new foods and especially for re-trying food that they think they don’t like. It’s really important to get them to keep trying, as their pallet will eventually accept most foods. There will always be some things that they won’t like, I remember disliking broccoli as a child but it’s now one of my favorite veggies.
Here is a plate of food that K chose on holiday after seeing us enjoying the sushi. She even liked the caviar and went back for more! Expensive tastes, but I’m so glad she took advantage of trying different foods given the opportunity.
The Boy is the fussiest of the three but only because he often refuses meat/ fish. He would happily live on sausages as his only source of protein! He will however, eat all fruit and veg except green leaves (which I disguise in fritters and stir-fry’s successfully) so I’m really not that worried! My main strategy with him is to continue to feed him the same, I refuse to give in to fussiness. If he’s hungry, he’ll eat! I simply encourage him to have at least a couple of mouthfuls of the meat or fish on the plate. If he refuses to finish a reasonable amount, there is nothing else. One particular rule that we have enforced is: Food does not come back out once it has gone in (obviously allowing for gristle or bone). Being strict with this has really paid off because if I can convince him to put it in, I know he will, at least eat that bit!! Only last night, we had a breakthrough with salmon– he finished a portion without any interference from me! I did a little celebration dance (any mum will understand!!), it’s the little wins that keep us going!!
At what age to we allow children to choose?
K (the first born) didn’t have any sugary foods (only natural sugars in fruit) until she was one. However, the other two had sugar much earlier, as it was in the house and impossible to hide! I’m not sure it made much of a difference in the long run really. They all over-do the sugar when they visit grandma, but that’s what grandmas are for and it’s only once or twice a month. We have a ‘sweet shelf’ where any chocolate obtained from parties, Christmas & Easter are kept. These goodies are rationed for after-dinner treats at the weekend with weekdays staying confectionary-free (generally speaking!). So, at the moment, I completely control the amount of confectionary consumed in our house. But that will change soon, once K moves on to secondary school and becomes more independent.
My strategy so far……
To encourage good independent food choices, I try to relate what they eat to how they feel, the amount of energy they have and what their body needs to perform well in a future planned activity. For example, they all went on a judo camp, for a week, during the school holiday and before choosing breakfast, we discussed the high amount of energy they would need. They consequently decided on granola (K), Weetabix (Lou) and porridge (the boy) rather than rice crispies or cornflakes. Lou also chose Weetabix because she was a little constipated the day before and she knows when that happens, Weetabix helps (increases her fiber intake).
I’ve been really impressed with the school and the amount of knowledge K gained in year 3 about healthy eating. Her teacher’s word is gospel!! The number of times she’s come home with a piece of information that I’ve been telling her for weeks, but because her teacher has said it, she actually listens! But no matter how good the school is at covering this topic, I think it’s really up to us, as parents, to reinforce healthy eating habits.
What are your kids eating habits like? Have you got any top tips to encourage healthy eating? How do you encourage your kids to make independent healthy food choices?