When kids are at school, suddenly all the work you’ve done to improve their diet can fly out the window as they compete with their friends to see ‘who has the yummiest lunchbox’.
The following are six easy tips to help you encourage your child to eat healthier foods, no matter if they’re at school or home …
Get them involved:
Whether it be the cooking or the shopping, if your child is involved in the process of choosing what’s in the meal, they are much more likely to want to eat it. Next time you’re at the supermarket, ask them to choose a vegetable to be included somehow in the evening meal. When you arrive home, ask them to wash it, and if they’re old enough peel it or chop it as the dish requires. You could also ask them to help pack their lunchbox, this can include fruit, vegetable and low fat cheese sticks, sandwiches cut into triangles or squares or any other healthy choices they come up with – let your child be creative!
Try growing herbs or vegetables:
This works in a similar way as involving your child in cooking and shopping, however it also teaches your child where the food in question comes from. Let your child choose the seeds, then plant, tend and harvest them together. You can easily experiment with different kinds too. Your child doesn’t like tomato? Try growing cherry tomatoes instead, children often like them more as they’re sweeter. If you’re pressed for space, don’t worry; many herbs and vegetables can be grown in pots on a small balcony! Even better, homegrown vegetables often taste much better as they’re fresh and not commercially grown.
Presenting the food in a way that is attractive to your child increases the chances of them eating it. Try using different colours, textures and shapes – making a face or an interesting scene can be quite fun! I can remember my Mum used to get me to eat my broccoli and peas by putting them on top of the sweet potato; the broccoli was the trees, the peas the cows or sheep and the sweet potato the paddock!
Eat them yourself:
Leading by example is a great way to influence your child’s eating habits; it makes sense that they will enjoy eating healthy food more if they can see their parents doing the same. This is easier if healthy choices are readily available for everyone, so stock your cupboards with healthy choices, and leave the less healthy choices as treats.
Serve new foods with foods they already like:
Introducing a new food with old favorites is a good way to increase tolerance because it takes the pressure off the child enjoying the new food, allowing them to try just a small amount to start with. Try offering just one or two bites so they become accustomed to new flavours and textures.
Treats are OK … in moderation:
Treats are an important part of your child’s diet, but they should not be a part of their daily diet. If a food is banned entirely this may actually increase your child’s desire for the food – we are all familiar with the ‘always wanting what you can’t have’ mentality! For example, if chocolate biscuits aren’t allowed, you can bet that whenever you’re at the supermarket your child will be trying to put them in the trolley. But if treats like this are always available, and your child eats them too often, the chances of obesity and other lifestyle issues is greatly increased. So, having these less healthy choices occasionally is ok, but this is how they should remain – as occasional treats.
This article was written by Accredited Practicing Dietitian Chloe McLeod, who currently works in private practice and community health.