We all know how important healthy eating and organic foods are to us and our family. However, your child may not understand the reasons to eat fruits and vegetables over sweets and chocolates.
As adults, we know about the many benefits that come with healthy eating. Healthy eating results in:
Without you explaining this to your children in detail, they may fail to connect the importance of their food choices.
Providing healthy lunches and snacks is just one part of the solution in getting children to eat healthier. The other part is to get your children to select these foods willingly, and create lifelong habits that will see them making the right choices even when you’re not there to make selections for them.
You can do this in the following ways:
It’s important to lead by example every single day when it comes to healthy food. If you tell your child something but then do the exact opposite, they will get conflicting messages about what is right. If you haven’t started already, start making healthy choices for your own foods, whether it be at home or at work. Children absorb so much information with what they see, so seeing you choose a salad over hot chips and gravy is the best start you can give them.
It’s okay to admit to your children that you sometimes like to have the odd lolly, but combine this confession with ways to get around it. Saying things like, “I used to love strawberry milkshakes, but to be healthier I choose to eat a few strawberries instead. They taste just as good and are much more nutritious.”
You only have to see how quickly children gravitate towards brightly packaged foods or foods that contain toys to know that “fun food” is a big drawcard. By creating funny faces with your dishes, by chopping fruits and vegetables into shapes, and by making your meals as interactive as they can be, healthy food can be fun too.
Making food fun is easy when you incorporate these factors:
Colour: Bright, colourful foods are naturally more appealing to children. Why not make a fruit rainbow?
Interests: Maximise your child’s interests and food is instantly more inviting. If your daughter’s favourite shape is a star, try cutting foods into star shapes.
Funny names: Rename boring vegetables with funny names to make them more appealing. Broccoli can become “baby trees” while a green smoothie could be a “Ninja Turtle” drink.
Unusual presentation: Instead of just plonking food on a plate, get creative. Make vegetable kebabs using skewers, serve “big” food miniature style, or turn your smoothies into ice blocks.
As you prepare your food, talk to your children about why you are choosing them. “I’m giving you an orange because it’s packed with vitamin C. We need vitamin C to protect our body’s cells, which in turn keeps us healthy”.
Ask questions such as, “Did you know that peas are considered one of the healthiest foods in the world? They contain a unique assortment of health-protective phytonutrients that help keep sickness away”.
You can also make food sound more interesting by asking things like: “Did you know that you can use the outside of a cucumber to erase a mistake made in pen?” or “Did you know that if I ate nothing but carrots, my skin would be really orange?”
Teaching children about where food comes from and how it is grown is an important part of healthy eating. The best way to do this is to start your own vegetable garden, in which children can ‘grow their own’.
Growing your own doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds. A vegetable patch can be easily put together using some great soil, and the kids will love getting their hands dirty. They’ll also be far more eager to try foods they have grown themselves, with even fussy eaters loving picking cherry tomatoes straight from the vine.
The trick to a successful vegetable patch is to:
When you’re out shopping, consider playing games based around healthy food choices. One idea would be to challenge your children to find the healthiest item in each aisle. Look at their choices carefully and if they are right, ask if they would like you to purchase it to try it at home. If they are wrong, talk about why it might not be so healthy and look for better alternatives.
Another idea would be to play “healthy word bingo” and get kids to look for words such as superfoods, all-natural, organic, fresh, antioxidants and probiotic. Once they mark off all the words on the card, they can choose something healthy that’s not on the shopping list.
Alternatively, play nutrition-themed bingo at home using online printables, or play “shop” with your little one and set up a fruit and vegetable store.
There are so many colouring books around, and what better way to teach them about healthy eating than by colouring in healthy foods? Choose activity books and colouring books that represent healthy and organic living. Teach them about the different items in the book as they colour them in, and then make a game of cooking the foods that they coloured in that day.
Check out your local area for farmers markets. They’re a great place to take the kids to see the massive amounts of healthy and fresh produce available. Ask them to name the vegetables and fruits as you look around.
Farmer’s markets are also a great place to teach older children about sustainability and how buying from local sources helps support local farmers and a healthier environment.
To get your kids on the path to discovering healthy foods and making healthy choices, begin asking them to plan their own lunchbox for school. It’s best to plan either the night before or for the week ahead (so you can get the grocery shopping done for the week), and sit down together to decide what they will have for lunch the next day. Prepare lunch boxes the night before and together when possible. Children who are old enough can pack it themselves, while younger children can help by peeling or cutting fruits or vegetable sticks.
By involving your child in the process you can also talk to them about the lunchbox choices of their friends, and find alternatives to the lollies/processed foods their friends might be eating so that your child doesn’t feel that they are missing out on anything.
It is important when discussing healthy eating with your kids that you choose your words wisely. Show them that the importance of choosing the right foods is to be healthy and fit, not to lose weight or be “skinny”. Instead of saying something like “Drinking water will keep you from becoming overweight”, discuss how hydration is important for everyone to help them grow up.
Starting your children on fresh, nutritious, organic food early is the best way to ensure your children make healthy choices for life. Teach your children to be mindful in their food selections, but remind them that it’s okay to have the odd treat too. Foods like ice cream and cake are fine in moderation, but only when combined with a healthy balanced diet.