So many of you ask me what are my tips for feeding healthy food to kids. I have put together a few tips and ideas that I have learnt from experience as well as from other practitioners, that are the most successful with kids.
Here are the top 10 that I hope provides you with the best help:
First thing to remember is that it's never too late to start. Start talking to your kids about what real food is where ingredients come from and how to cook homemade meals. Give them the gift of knowledge and an open mind and watch how they begin to understand why this is so important.
1. Start as you mean for them to go on
It's never too early to start getting your children eating well! From the moment your babies are introduced to solids, give them vegetables first. There is no reason why they should have sweet fruit first. If you have already started with the fruit, no worries, start introducing veggies now. Get them used to savoury in the first 6 months of their life. Our kids attitude towards food is something they learn really early on, so start right now. If children have smashed veggies as a baby, are used to steamed spinach beside their chicken as a toddler or drinking smoothies in the morning, then they won't be hesitant about 'healthy eating' as they get older. Just make healthy eating a normal part of life, not something difficult or battle provoking.
2. Lead by your example
If you are serious about teaching your kids healthy eating then you really need to take the lead on this one, you can't expect them to eat lentils and tofu for dinner is you are tucking into a pizza. Making the decision to eat well needs to be a decision made by the whole family. Sitting down as a family together at the dinner table shows them that you are all in this together. Actions do speak louder than words so don't expect to see changes in them unless you make changes yourself.
3. Clear out your cupboards
This is a suggestion that I make quite often and it applies to adults as much as children. I consider it a crucial first step in beginning a healthier way of living. Just think about it, if you or your children are hungry and there are a lot of unhealthy options available, you will definitely be more inclined to make poor food choices. Yet this can so easily be avoided if you don't buy them in the first place. Put a ban on any junk food or sugary item entering the house! It's much easier to say we don't have any than trying to explain why they can't have the chocolate bar or chips sitting in the cupboard you hold the power to decide what sits in your kitchen pantry - please use that power wisely.
4. Watch for hidden sugar
There is a lot more awareness regarding hidden sugar and it probably is obvious that the first things to go will be fruit bars, candy bars, soft drink, sweets and pastries. However, it is equally important to keep an eye out for the hidden sugar - there's tons of it.
Many foods that you might not expect to rank high in sugar are - fruit juices - 'healthy' cereals like granola, flavoured yogurts, tomato sauce, salad dressings, soups and many items labelled 'low fat' or 'diet'. Teach yourself and your kids to read the labels before you buy and try to buy more food that doesn't have a label at all.
When looking at the ingredients keep an eye out for sugar but check also for sneaky manufacturers who try to trick us with glucose, maltose, fructose, dextrose, lactose, fruit juice concentrate, molasses, sorbitol, xylose and dehydrated cane and juice are just a few.
5. Breakfast is king
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially for growing bodies and brains, however choosing a healthy breakfast can be challenging. Research has found that children's breakfast cereals can contain as much as 3 teaspoons of sugar per serving, that the same as putting 2½ chocolate biscuits on their plate each morning.
We need to re-think the types of foods we give our kids at breakfast, moving away from these high sugar, processed cereals, fruit yoghurts, pastries, bars and spreads and white processed bread and instead thinking about more wholesome "real" options that will fuel their day. There are a lot of healthier ways to start the day that also don't take a lot of time to prepare. Maybe you could make a batch of overnight oats, some low fat sugar granola, omelettes, hard boiled eggs, whole meal toast with tomato and cheese or a green smoothie.
6. Planning is the key
For busy parents (what parents aren't busy?!), part of the difficulty in getting children to eat well is simply lack of time. Quick and unhealthy snacks are easy on the way home from school, or a quick pre-packaged meal for tea often seems like the easier option. However, with a little planning and preparation it doesn't have to be this way. Planning meals in advance can make things so much easier. When my kids were home I tried to identify my week ahead, worked out when I was going to be home late or see what was happening with the kids and work out what was needed. Sunday was usually the best day for this. I would try and do as much preparation on Sunday as I could. This would usually involve washing and preparing vegies and greens ready to go, cooking a portion of rice or even quinoa to use throughout the week, making soup and freezing some, making some granola or overnight porridge or freezing some savoury muffins. Slow cooked meals also help or one pot meals are a great idea as well. Whatever gets done on your prep day speeds things up during the week and is often a life saver when the clock strikes dinner time and your tired and uninspired.
For more information on Healthy Eating for Kids, read Part 2 in the following BLOG