Juggling work, the joys (and sometimes chaos) of motherhood, and striving to lead by example, especially when it comes to healthy eating, can feel overwhelming.
So, how do you become a role model of good nutrition when your plate is full, both metaphorically and literally? Keep reading, because this guide is for you – here are my top six practical tips and strategies to help your little ones grow up with healthy eating habits!
Eating well is all about balance. Show your little ones that meals include a variety of different types of food, colours, textures and as such, a mix of nutrients that are good for their growing bodies! You can do this by designing a colourful salad that resembles a rainbow, creating a vegetable garden on a plate or fruit and vegetable faces.
It’s also important not to use language around certain foods that heightens your children’s preference for them. Instead of framing foods high in calories, sugars or fat as ‘bad’, frame them as ‘sometimes’ foods. For instance, chocolate chip cookies are perfect for a Sunday afternoon treat, while fresh fruits are more of an everyday food. By setting a context rather than laying down strict rules, you’re teaching moderation and a balanced relationship with all foods.
By choosing, touching, feeling or preparing items, children build a deeper connection with their food. Activities could include:
– Turning the trip to the grocery store into a treasure hunt: Let your little one’s search for the items you need on your shopping list, and let them pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try as their reward!
– A weekend outing to a local farm: This is a great opportunity for children to learn where exactly their food comes from. They’ll love activities like picking their own strawberries or seeing how tomatoes grow.
– Initiating a family garden: You can start small with herbs – this gives children an activity while you’re preparing the meal to pick herbs from the garden, and gives them responsibility and appreciation for what they’ve grown. Depending on space (and of course, time!), you could graduate to a bigger garden plot and try growing some fruits and vegetables.
When it comes to food preparation, let your child be a ‘junior chef’ and involve them in the process of creating your meals – this could include washing vegetables, stirring the pot or measuring out ingredients. The pride of having contributed makes them more eager to taste and appreciate the final dish.
Creating the right atmosphere during mealtimes encourages children’s healthy eating habits. When your little ones feel relaxed and comfortable, they’re more open to exploring a variety of flavours and textures. Similarly, aim to minimise phone, tablet or TV use during mealtimes, which pulls focus away from the smell, taste and texture of food. These distractions also mean children are less likely to tune in to their hunger and fullness cues – which is helpful for avoiding overeating and building a healthy relationship with food.
While it also might be tempting to use food as a reward, like offering dessert in exchange for eating vegetables, these tactics encourage children to view healthy foods as an obstacle to the prize – dessert. Instead, try and focus on fostering appreciation for the foods they do have in front of them.
While you’re eating, allow for open dialogue around the foods on your plate. Discuss the benefits of the foods you’ve served in a fun way, like why broccoli is an incredible green machine or how salmon is the superhero of the sea, and the benefits this has for their bodies. Does it help them grow big and strong or keep focused during school? Using fun stories or characters to explain the benefits is also helpful – for example, “Did you know Popeye the sailor becomes super strong with spinach?”
If children don’t like something, discuss why and think about ways you could adapt the food to make it tastier – trying a different herb from the garden perhaps? If it’s a special family recipe you’re cooking that day, share the story behind the food so your children have the opportunity to learn about how you grew up or your food culture. Themed food nights are also a great opportunity to introduce children to different flavours, foods and cuisines – think ‘Mediterranean Mondays’ or ‘Thai Thursdays’. We LOVE the list of ideas by the Smart Slow Cooker.
It’s no secret that children often mirror our behaviours, and when it comes to food, this is no different! If your little ones can see you eating your dinner, trying new foods, herbs and flavour combinations, they’re more likely to mirror these behaviours and give foods a go. This also relates to everyday activities – not just dinner meals.
When you opt for healthier choices, like topping your cereal with fresh fruit or choosing whole-grain bread for your sandwiches, your children observe. By making these shifts in your routine and visibly enjoying different, healthy foods, you’re silently communicating the value and pleasure of nutritious choices to your little ones.
Finally, consistency and patience is key! Keep encouraging, trying new foods, and don’t give up! Celebrate the joy of healthy eating, and your children will likely do the same.
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