Making Children Aware of Healthy Eating
Set an Example!How can you do this? Well the first thing is to try and making eating meals a family occasion. Not necessarily everyday; life - with working parents and children who go to gym/ballet/football/swimming/maths groups after school - doesn’t allow for that any longer. But even if it’s only once a week, maybe on a weekend, a meal together provides not only the opportunity to reconnect with your kids but also the chance to influence their eating habits and, as a result, their long-term health prospects.
Eating TogetherChildren like a routine. They like to know what to expect. Even teenagers, who might rebel against a lot of rules, need and appreciate, though they might not admit it -structure in their lives. Regular – even when built around their busy after-school schedule - mealtimes can provide this.
As they get older your kids can be involved in planning the family meals together, or even cooking them (see 'Kids Recipes'), but even at an early age, eating together gives you the opening to talk about what you’re eating and why you need all the different bits.
You can set an example by not over-indulging in the less nutritious foods and by eating plenty of fruit and vegetables. If you’re full, make a point of stopping and saying that you’ve had enough – and don’t expect children to clear their plates! On the other hand, if you’re trying to diet, don’t talk too much about it, and never tell your child he’s getting fat. More and more children today are developing eating disorders because of the pressure on them to conform to what is seen as being perfect.
Concentrate instead on offering a healthy balanced diet with variety and choice.Children develop likes and dislikes at an early age so don’t force your child to eat something just because it’s good for him. Allow your child some control over what she eats but give her healthy options. If she hates Brussels sprouts, serve broccoli as well as an alternative.
Shopping for FoodWhen shopping with your kids, make a point of reading the labels on food, even foods aimed directly at children. Check how much salt, sugar and fat are in them. Ask your kids if they really want to eat disodium phosphate or whatever gelling or stabilising agent is in that particular product. Help them to think about what is in their food and to choose wisely.A 60g bar of milk chocolate contains 7 teaspoons of sugar and 17g fat. Measure those out and let your kids see how much that is.
Drinking is Good for You70% of the body is made up of water. Encourage your kids to drink between 8-10 cups of water a day. Make it more when they exercise or in hot weather. Water is the very best drink. Keep some in the fridge. Serve with ice cubes with pieces of fruit in them.
Cold semi-skimmed milk is good for growing children, providing them with the calcium they need for healthy teeth and bones.
Fruit juice contains a lot of sugar and should be limited.
Avoid giving your child tea or coffee at mealtimes because it reduces the amount of iron they can absorb.
As for sugary drinks, if you don’t buy them, your kids can’t drink them. Of course, when they’re out of the home, they’ll buy what they want but if you can send them out with good habits, it will be a start.
And Don’t Forget …
- When you see footballers or ballet dancers on television, talk about what they need to be able to do what they do. Calcium for strong bones, vitamin C to keep them healthy, protein to build their muscles and carbohydrates for energy. And where they get them from.
- Always have plenty of fruit, celery, yogurt, peanut butter and whole wheat crackers to offer as snacks.
- Encourage your child to eat breakfast, the most important meal of the day. Cereal with semi-skimmed milk is a great – and quick and easy - start to the day, especially as many cereals have added vitamins.
- Aim to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Remember frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables count, as do baked beans.
- Limit the amount of salt you use in cooking. Cut it down gradually and you won’t notice the difference. Don’t have salt on the table.
- Chocolates, fast food and sweets can be once-a-week treats but don’t forbid them altogether as forbidden fruits always taste nicer!
- When you’re cooking, especially if your kids are helping you, make a point of steaming or grilling.
But don’t worry! If you follow our basic advice and make sure you give your kids a healthy well-balanced diet, encourage them to make their own wise choices and don’t let food become a struggle, you’ll find one day that you’ve produced healthy young adults who’ll love coming home for your cooking!