The most effective way to teach your child healthy eating habits is to set a good example. Making nutritious food a priority in your life, limiting visits to fast-food restaurants, and teaching your child to prepare meals and snacks healthily will help steer your child in the right direction. The following tips offer some suggestions for fostering healthy eating habits.
Getting up for breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for both you and your child. Compared with children who don’t eat breakfast, children who do eat breakfast:
- · Do better at maths and reading and have better concentration and behavior.
- · Are more likely to keep their weight under control and have lower blood cholesterol levels. Children who miss breakfast are much more likely to snack on junk food such as biscuits, crisps, and chocolate, before lunch.
- · Are more likely to meet their nutritional needs, with adequate levels of minerals and vitamins.
Mornings are one of the worst times for busy families, but breakfast doesn't have to mean a home-made gourmet meal every day. Here are some suggestions for quick and easy breakfasts that are also nutritious:
- · Cereal with fruit and milk.
- · Toasted bagel with cheese.
- · Fruit and yogurt.
- · Toasted waffle topped with fruit and yogurt.
- · Fruit smoothie (fruit and milk or yoghurt whizzed in a blender).
- · Peanut butter on wholemeal toast.
Cereal can be one of the healthiest of breakfasts, providing slow-burning energy to last your child until lunchtime. It has the added advantage of getting milk into your child too! However, remember that some sweetened cereals are very high in sugar, so stick to the unsweetened (and preferably wholegrain) types. Make sure you set a good example by eating breakfast too – parents are their children’s number one influence as far as diet, exercise, and lifestyle are concerned.
Stocking up on healthy foods
A good way to instill healthy eating habits is to control the supply lines – the foods that you serve for meals and have on hand for snacks. Here are some suggestions:
· Keep the pantry full of fruit and veg. The best option is fresh fruits and vegetables, but canned and frozen work just as well. With plenty on hand, you can easily work fruits and vegetables into the daily menu, aiming for the goal of at least five servings a day. Having ready-to-eat fruit and veggies, such as chunks of apples or carrot sticks, makes it easy for your child to choose healthy snacks.
· Stock up on healthy snacks. Good snacks include rice cakes, yogurt, celery smeared with peanut butter, and wholegrain crackers with cheese.
· Choose wholegrain breads and cereals. These contain more fiber than white bread.
· Ditch the deep-fat fryer. Limit your child’s fat intake by using healthier cooking methods, such as grilling and steaming, rather than deep-fat frying.
· Empty the fridge of sugary drinks. Limit fizzy drinks and squash and try to get your child to drink water and milk instead.
· Invest in a liquidizer or food processor to make smoothies. Let your child help with preparing the ingredients for these healthy shakes. It’s amazing what a wide selection of fruit (and sometimes vegetables) you can get your child to take that way!
Making food interesting
Having a plate of bland, colorless food shoved in front of you does little for your appetite (remember school dinners?). Food needs to be appealing to get your child to eat, so get creative. This doesn't mean concocting cordon bleu recipes in the kitchen. Here are some easy ways to inspire your child’s interest in food:
Variety’s the spice of life. Children who eat a wide assortment of foods increase their chances of meeting their nutritional requirements, so serve foods from all the food groups, with plenty of carbs, dairy products, proteins, fruits, and veg.
Colors are cool. A plate of food with lots of different colors not only looks appetizing but also typically contains a good range of nutrients.
Food can be fun. Whether your child is 7 months or 7 years old, food can be a shared source of enjoyment. Your child should see food as a pleasure rather than a chore, so get her interested by letting her help you prepare meals. Baked potato boats, vegetable hedgehogs, or yoghurt-filled halved peaches with raisin eyes and satsuma-segment smiles are great fun for children to help make, and they’re more likely to eat them, too.
Junk the junk food – but be tactical. As your child gets old enough to be tempted by the lure of junk food, you may find it difficult to avoid being nagged for chicken nuggets or fish fingers. In fact, skinless chicken breast or sliced, boned fillet of fish dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and shallow fried in just a teaspoon of olive oil feels deliciously naughty but is actually very healthy.
Bring out the artist in your hungry child. Let your children loose with pizza bases and dishes of peppers, sweetcorn, cheese, tomatoes, olives, and home-made tomato sauce (just wash their hands well and be prepared to clean up afterwards!). In fact, make-your-own pizza is a wonderful activity for a birthday party, offering children the opportunity to compare notes and eat their own creations.
The idea of family mealtimes often conjures up images of battlegrounds – but regular family dinners don’t have to mean tin hats for all. Family meals are a great way to encourage healthy eating habits and offer the chance to introduce your child to new foods and to discover the foods that she likes and dislikes.
Children also like the predictability of family meals. Studies show that compared with children who have few family meals, children who eat regularly with their family are:
- More likely to eat fruits, vegetables, and grains.
- Less likely to snack on unhealthy foods.
- Less likely to smoke, use marijuana, or drink alcohol when they are older.
Sitting in front of the television to eat, even if you’re sitting at a table, means that your child won’t be concentrating fully on her food, and is likely to eat more. So don’t gawp – talk while you eat instead! Whether it’s a takeaway or a home-cooked meal with all the trimmings, strive for nutritious food and a time when the whole family can be there.
Ditching the junk food
If your child’s a junk-food junkie, she’s not alone. You only need to open a newspaper to see that the things our children eat are making them fatter and unhealthier than ever before. Obesity’s on the rise, as are the related problems of diabetes and heart disease.
Junk or convenience food, which includes everything from burgers and chips to biscuits and cakes, is one of the most significant contributory factors towards child health problems. Ditching the junk is easier said than done if it forms your child’s staple diet, but here are a few tips to help you on your way:
- Don’t expect to be able to cut out the junk food overnight – it’s easier to make small changes to your child’s diet than to cut out all the food she’s used to in one single stroke.
- If your child is old enough, explain to her why eating healthy food is so important. Get her to list all her favorite colors and match them up with fruit or vegetables to get her imagination going.
- If she has a favorite superhero or sporting celebrity, let her know that they only eat healthy food. Understanding the connection between eating well and being healthy and strong will inspire her.
Convenience food doesn’t have to be processed. A banana or an avocado needs no preparation – you can’t get more convenient than that!
· Involve your child when choosing and preparing fresh food – would she prefer beans or peas, for example, with her meal? This involvement gives her a feeling of control over what she eats.
Of course, you can’t stop your child from eating junk food altogether, but if junk foods dominate her diet she could lose out in the health stakes. Children are getting taller and heavier than ever before because they’re consuming more than enough calories. But they’re not getting healthier, as junk food provides plenty of calories but few nutrients. Junk food contributes to a number of modern-day health problems, including tiredness, lack of energy, irritability, mood swings, constipation, loose bowels, weight problems, skin problems, dark shadows under the eyes, frequent infections, and poor concentration.