Nutrition student and mum Kyra Merrett talks about why building your children’s health from the inside out is worth the effort, and shares her top tips on how to help set your kids up for life.
Sometimes kids just don’t want to eat the healthy stuff! With many parents relying regularly on takeaway food and highly refined easy-to-make meals for their children, it is too easy for little ones to fall short of their daily nutrient requirements.
Building your children’s health from the inside out can be a daunting, hellish task. Refusal of foods can happen at any age and can be difficult and trying at best. The following hints and tips can help make dinner time a smoother process.
Consistency is key. Continuously offer foods your children reject. If they are seeing their plate is full of vegetables they will become accustomed to seeing those foods on their plates and should eventually start to try them. There’s no escaping the broccoli that keeps appearing!
All plates being served up should have the same food. That goes for mums and dads, brothers, sisters and guests. Dinner needs to be the same for everyone involved. Monkey see, monkey do! It’s about leading by example.
When a flat out refusal occurs, let them leave the table when everyone else is finished. When they ask for food again, offer the same meal. Continuously offer the same meal until it is (mostly) eaten.
Little chef, big chef
Invite the fussy eater to become part of the cooking process. Getting them involved in what they eat will give them a sense of accomplishment before they hit the dinner table! Even if it is only a small task like putting the potatoes on the tray, this will be a big help in understanding what is involved in putting a meal together. It also helps build a positive relationship with food. Make it fun!
Find a favourite vegetable
Encourage their taste buds with simple vegetables first. Pumpkin, sweet potato, corn, carrots and peas are all fairly popular due to their sweeter nature. Potato is also a widely accepted vegetable and there are many ways to incorporate it into your meals.
Get the kids outside in the garden! Teach them to plant and grow their own vegetables they can pick and cook themselves. By doing this you are setting up healthy foundations for their future. A good understanding of gardening is essential for wholesome living and eating.
Whilst introducing new foods, phasing out junk from the diet is essential to getting your child accustomed to the tastes and smells of wholesome foods. Do not cancel them out entirely – variety is what will keep your child interested. Begin with offering favourite foods in conjunction with vegetables. If your child loves chicken nuggets, put the nuggets on the plate with the vegetables and get them to alternate between mouthfuls of vegetables and nuggets. Phase out by adding fewer nuggets to the plate each time and increasing their veggies.
I love my food processor. It is my best friend, and half the time my family doesn’t know they are actually eating vegetables. I hide vegetables in sauces, coatings, dips, baking… everything I cook has hidden vegetables in it!
Always talk to your child about how good food is! How it will make them feel very good tomorrow, give them the energy to play and help them grow big and strong. Teach your child about where their food comes from; about wasting food and how this can impact on the environment.
Your child will be at his or her hungriest in the lead up to dinner. Instead of rejecting their need to eat by saying wait until dinner, set out a plate of cold salads and raw vegetables to pick at while you prepare dinner. This helps encourage healthy snacking, providing light satisfaction before dinner without overindulging.
The best thing about this is that it can be brought out at any time during the day and requires minimal preparation.
Being forceful when presenting foods to your child will hinder their relationship with vegetables. It also has the potential to bring about rebellion and tantrums. Offer once, and if they turn it down give them the option of eating something they like before and after the vegetable. This food must already be on their dinner plate – do not go and cook a special item for them to have with dinner if no one else will be eating it.
This process will begin as trial and error. And it will take time. You now have the tools, the tricks and the determination to feed your child great foods! Reward systems, gentle encouragement, versatile recipes and pre-planning meals that kids are involved in choosing are all helpful tools in aiding your children to eat well.
Building a better foundation today will make all the difference tomorrow. Good luck!
Kyra is studying a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine) at Endeavour College of Natural Health. She is a mum to a wonderful two year old daughter and is exceptionally passionate about children's nutrition. Kyra is driven by a love of food and hopes to influence major movements and changes in food standards.
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