Parents are constantly being challenged by food marketing companies that target children directly. They offer, processed foods often high in sugar, preservatives, artificial colours and flavours, with little nutritional value. This combined with our fast-paced lifestyles, children’s academic and extra-curricular schedules makes it difficult to be home at mealtimes. Despite these challenges, parents can focus on increasing the proportion of healthy foods their children are eating, to help them to establish healthy eating habits and get the vital nutrients they need to grow.
Here are some ways to get more of the right foods and less of the processed foods on your children’s (and your) plates.
Serve the healthy foods that they love
This may seem obvious, but it is easy to forget to offer your child the fruits and vegetables that they like, especially since produce is perishable. You should use every opportunity to get healthier foods on their plates so, make sure you stay stocked up and prepare the healthy meals/snacks that they enjoy.
Larger portions of the fruits/ veggies they enjoy
When you serve your kids the healthy foods that they like, supersize the portions! Kids tend to eat 75 percent of what’s on their plate, so if you serve a larger portion of the healthy food, they will likely eat more.
Have ready-to-go fruits/ veggies in the fridge.
One way to give your kids some autonomy on their food choices is for them to choose their own snacks. Instead of letting them have unrestricted access to the pantry where the processed snacks are likely to be stored, you can have a variety of ready to eat snacks handy in the fridge (cut fruits and veggies, boiled eggs etc.) that they can choose from for the snack.
Serve vegetables as an appetizer
Kids are most open to eating healthy foods when they are hungry so, serving up some veggies while you are finishing dinner works well. After school or extra-curricular activities is another good time to focus on getting the nutrients in.
Choose “better” processed foods or create healthier homemade versions
Ideally, we want the kids to eat food, as close to a whole and unprocessed form as possible. However, with some kids we may need to take baby steps to reach there. Making healthier homemade muffins or even buying healthier cereal with more fiber and less sugar may be the stepping-stone you need to increase the proportion of healthy foods on your fussy eater’s plate.
Reduce sweetened drinks
Sweetened drinks such as juice boxes, soft drinks and chocolate milk are often very high in sugar, which stimulates additional sugar cravings. In addition, sugary drinks can spike blood sugar levels, leading to hyperactivity and lack of focus plus mood swings as the sugar levels fall. When kids fill up on these sweetened drinks, they are less likely to eat whole foods. To help with the transition, slowly reduce portions by serving in smaller cups or watering down juice. You can also use weekends or school holidays to break trends or 'forget' to stock up at the grocery.
Limit fried foods
When I was growing up, French fries were a real treat. Now, kids are eating French fries and other deep-fried foods such as chicken nuggets, doubles and fried bake weekly, and some, even daily. These fried foods contain unhealthy fats that increase our 'bad' cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease. One way to limit is to use different cooking methods at home e.g. bake, broil or roast instead of frying. It is also a good idea to set overall boundaries on how often you will indulge in fast foods for example, in my household, doubles are a once a month treat.
Encourage tasting of new foods
One of the challenges with increasing the proportion of healthy foods for some children is that the scope of healthy foods that they enjoy is limited. Continue to encourage your children to taste new foods to expand their palettes.
What we feed our kids affects their physical development, their learning and focus, as well as their moods and behaviour. The reality is we tend to prefer foods we eat more of, so when the priority is on processed foods it leaves little room for whole foods.
By Kaylan Bartholomew