It seems like so much of our time as parents is spent worrying about our children’s sleep and what they eat. But what if I told you that it didn’t have to be that way, that life is so much simpler than we like to make it? Children by nature, are very simplistic little beings as well as creatures of habit. They crave familiarity and stability but at times, this also can lead to bad habits developing and can create a great deal of unnecessary stress in the home.
Sleep is another issue that I’ll address in a later post but today I’ll give you a few tips on how to get your child eating better and setting them up with healthy habits for life.
Rule Number One – Monkey See, Monkey Do. You can’t expect your children to have healthy habits if you’re not making a good diet a top priority for yourself. Healthy habits begin in the womb as research has shown that a child’s tastebuds will be naturally influenced by what they’re exposed to during gestation. Moderation and variety is the key. Children learn by example, not by being ‘told what to do’. So make your own diet a priority and you’ll start to see rewards long term both for you and your family.
Rule Number Two – If You Don’t Want It, Don’t Stock It! I don’t buy junk food or processed food during a regular grocery shop. If I want that soft drink or chocolate, I’m going to have to drive out and get it. Sure, at times, I’ll have the occasional processed treats in my cupboard, but I know if it’s there all the time, I’ll indulge all the time. I don’t want my kids growing up seeing food come out of a packet, I want them to see it grown, baked and served with love. I know my weakness. So I’ve created this tactic to combat that and also to stop my kids becoming too familiar with a cupboard full of chemicals.
Rule Number Three – You Provide, Children Decide. It’s up to you to provide healthy, nutritious food and drinks. But it’s up to the child how much they eat and what they eat. You can encourage trying something new, but never force them to eat. It’ll always backfire in the long run. Keep it simple, serve it up and let nature do the rest. We have hunger pangs for a reason, let their body work for them, respect their genuine dislikes (my son can’t stand savoury crackers as an example) and allow them to develop a healthy, positive relationship with their own nutrition. A healthy child will never starve themselves.
Rule Number Four – Never Give Up. Research has shown that children need to see a new food 15 times before even trying it. We never use the words, ‘Doesn’t like’ or ‘Won’t eat’ in front of our children. By saying that in front of them, you’re creating and reaffirming a restricted diet for them. A simple, “Oh, you don’t want to eat that today? That’s okay, maybe tomorrow sweetheart or another day”. When my preschooler states loudly that a sibling “Doesn’t like” something, I remind him that “they’re just choosing not to eat it today, and that’s ok”. It took two years of offering carrots on a weekly basis in our house before anyone ate them. Now they’re a snack staple! Try serving them up differently – different shapes, different textures (chopped, grated, steamed, etc) and you might hit the jackpot!
Rule Number Five – Don’t Provide Substitutions. Don’t allow your own fears to interfere in your child’s development of a healthy diet. If they’re not hungry for a carrot, they definitely don’t need coco pops. I like to offer two to three options and let my children have a say in what they’d like to eat, for example, they can decide between an apple, banana or orange. Don’t get carried away and leave it open ended “What would you like to eat?” is just setting yourself up for failure! And always avoid this situation “So would you like a carrot?, a banana? an apple? toast? yogurt? cereal? an omelette? chips? pancakes?” It simply never, ever works. Provide options that you know are reasonable and leave it at that.
Rule Number Six – Remember Amounts Will Vary And Be Prepared. A saying in our house is that “Mummy is not a vending machine”. However, I’ve learnt that babies can eat a lot, toddlers often eat very little (they may have birdlike diets or be known as healthy ‘non-eating’ toddlers.. both are not uncommon) and preschoolers eat A LOT! I make sure that I always have healthy cereals, fruits and veggies, yoghurts, cheeses and baked goods ready to go. And…Yes, food will at times go into the bin. It’s part of life, accept it and move on. Don’t make a big deal about it and just remember to start smaller next time. A good rule for a toddler is to halve what you think they need, then halve it again for the first serving. Too much can overwhelm and end up with their refusing to eat.
Rule Number Seven – Adjust The Snacks. Keeping in mind that amounts needed will vary due to your child’s energy needs, if mealtimes are a battle but snacks are being consumed in abundance, then you may need to readjust your serving of them. Adjust the times that snacks are allowed (An hour from mealtimes is our standard) and the amount consumed if you feel they’re impacting on the main meal.
Rule Number Eight – Get Them Involved. Grow veggies, take them to the farmers market, allow them to chop fruits and veggies and decide what gets thrown into the blender. Take the unknown away and give kids a reason to be proud of what’s being served up. Perhaps they were the ones that grew or picked those mushrooms. Make stories up about food – tell them how much the Easter Bunny and Reindeer love their apples and carrots. Create positive connections between what they see and what they taste and half the battle is already won.
Most importantly, remember that sitting down to eat is really hard for small active children. Cut them some slack, keep it short, get creative how you serve it up and make mealtimes fun!
- Start regularly consuming a daily juice or smoothie and include your partner as well as any willing children.
- Begin with simple flavours that you know are a favourite – watermelon and strawberry is delicious. Let the kids make it for you.
- Continue to offer every time if they’d to have some.
- Subtly add in some extra nutrition – throw in a small handful of spinach, a stick of celery and some mint to the watermelon and strawberry.
- Remember to talk about what you’re doing, how great you feel, how it makes you run faster, jump higher and is so healthy. If they have a taste, challenge them to a running race, the more they drink, the faster they get and they might just beat you if they can drink the whole lot!
- Ask your kids what colour they’d like and let them help you with figuring out what could go into it – a green smoothie in our house has honeydew, spinach, pineapple, green apple, lime, mint, cucumber and celery.
- Educate yourself on how you can boost the nutritional value. Add a supplementary powder, chia seeds, coconut oil, etc. What flavours you add in will depend on the recipe but there is always something you can add!
Have fun and enjoy the fact that you’re giving your kids one of the best gifts that a parent can give – a positive relationship with food and a love of healthy living.
If your child has issues with food and you’re concerned, getting help from a nutritionist is a great idea. I love Little Fusspot https://www.facebook.com/littlefusspot you can find them on Facebook and it’s run by one awesome mummy based in WA. Start following her to get some great ideas on improving your families diet and all how to turn little fusspots into healthy eaters.