Monday 28 April 2014

Top 10 tips for helping your children eat a better diet

Of course as parents we know how important it is that our children eat a good balanced diet, we want them to have a healthy plate and to eat from each food group and meet the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but let's be honest, it is not always easy is it?

Sometimes you think you are doing a good job, perhaps you make a spaghetti bolognese and you have even taken the trouble to grate up some carrots and mushrooms and hide them in the sauce and you are feeling all angelic until someone explains to you that the jar of ready pasta sauce you used contains a high level of salt, artificial sweeteners and perhaps a preservative like sodium benzoate which has been linked to hyperactivity in children when combined with colourings!

It is an absolute minefield nowadays to know what is OK and what isn't, this is why so many families are reverting back to basics and following diets like paleo, that is a step too far for my family but I am concerned about my family eating well and that is why I signed up to Organix and their No Junk Challenge. For the whole of this week I will only feed my family a food product if I completely know and understand what it contains. So if the label has letters and numbers on it under the ingredients I'll take this as a sign that they should not be eating it. Take a look at the top 12 list of additives to avoid, aptly called the Dirty Dozen!

OK, so now we know what to avoid but we still have the issue that it is not always easy to get children to try new things and to eat variety and healthily, so ere are my top 10 tips -

  1. Get your children involved with growing your own produce. I have found that mine are far more likely to try something new when they have spent time planting the seeds and lovingly caring for the plants as they grew.
  2. In a similar vein, get the kids cooking with you. Yes it takes a little longer but they gain so much from it and again are much more willing to try out new food items if they have invested time in their preparation/ cooking.
  3. Once your children start cooking with you, why don't you encourage them to use their imagination and to make up a recipe. We often have JJ's pasta bake and how proud do you think he feels?
  4. Play with some food and that way the child becomes familiar with it, why don't you make an edible picture with broccoli trees, carrot and beetroot flowers, cut using tiny cutters and noodles coloured with green food dye to make your grass.
  5. Teach your children that there must always be at least three colours on their plate, so even if they are having fish fingers and chips (which are both yellow foods in case you are wondering) you then need to get two more colours on the plate, so empower your children to choose their own, perhaps cucumber and cherry tomatoes? Unfortunately salad does not go down well with the kids in my house and it would probably end up being green beans and carrots, my kids do love their cooked veg.
  6. It might seem obvious but repetition is key, especially when they are very young. A child might reject something the first 8 times it is one their plate and then all of a sudden they will give it a go and perhaps even find they like it. Of course make sure the plate has items on it you know will be enjoyed as well as the new item you are trying to introduce.
  7. Most of our meals are 'family service' rather than coming out ready on the plate. This means we have bowls of all the foods on the table and we help ourselves, this allows the child to feel as if they have some control. of course you can still have rules with this, my children always have to choose at least two veg.
  8. Reward charts and praise always goes a long way with children I find. Until recently we had sticker charts most weeks where the children could work towards targets (it could be trying two new veg) and then if they achieve them they can choose a small reward, an extra bedtime story, a family bike ride etc.
  9. Each week I plan our menu before I order the shopping and I make sure I ask each family member to choose one meal. Some prove unpopular with another family member so then I'll ask what we can do to make it better for them, it might be adding a corn on the cob as a side order, or serving the sauce separate to the pasta, as long as I'm cooking the same meal for everyone I don't mind making a few small changes.
  10. I'll leave you with this last genius tip from Organix - Give them pads of paper and suggest they become restaurant critics, marking each dish out of ten and giving comments. Provide lots of little dishes – like a picnic – to encourage them to try each flavor and write down notes on the taste or texture.
Blackberry picking last year meant that my girls then tried lots of new recipes with blackberries - 
smoothies, muffins, bakewell pudding and so on...

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