There is no magic formula to changing unhealthy eating habits. Most children (and us parents!) slide into them over time, and it is better to change them slowly and in a positive way than to try and change everything at once. Here are a few tips that I have found useful. Try one of them or some of them but most importantly try to do it without negative emotions. Good Luck & let me know how you get on.
Relax, Relax, Relax
Nobody wants mealtimes to turn into a battleground. It’s not good for you & it’s bad for your kids if every meal involves tension. If they don’t eat it, don’t sweat it. We tell our children, in a very quiet manner that if they don’t eat X amount of their meal, there will not be anything else later. After that no nagging, no cajoling, no pleading. Just a relaxed lunch.
Remember you don’t like everything either!
This can be an easy one to overlook. You worry about your child eating a healthy diet and forget that you would rather chop off your right arm than eating a piece of cabbage. Once they have given something a good try and they still don’t like it, move on. It’s the openness to trying that’s more important than your child eating any fruit and veg laid out in front of them. Which brings me to the next tip….
Set a good example
Don’t expect your little people to do as you say and not do as you do. If you want them to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, let them see you do it. Most kids imitate those around them – show them healthy habits to emulate.
Patience is a virtue
NO! – It is the default position for many children faced with a new food. With all five of our kids, we have ignored this and continued to serve everyone their fruit and veg at dinner time. Experience has shown that when the kids see you are going to keep serving those veggies at every meal they often give in one day and try it.
Children are more likely to co-operate when they feel that they have some control. By having them shop for fruits and vegetables with you, you’re giving them some choice in what they eat. A word of warning, though – don’t ask an open-ended question like “What do you want?” that opens you up to all kinds of issues and if your kids are like mine they’ll end up choosing fruit leather or chocolate raisins. Instead, give a choice like “Which green vegetable would you like to try?” or “Would you prefer carrots or peas today?” This is also a perfect time to discuss where food comes from and how to tell when it is ripe.
Prepare the food together
Encourage your children to be hands-on with their diet. This won’t work at every mealtime – there’s nothing worse than rushing to make dinner when you are all hungry & tired and tripping over your kids in the kitchen. Instead, choose a time when you aren’t rushed, and you can all enjoy yourselves.
Our 6 & 7 year-olds help to peel many vegetables (with a safe vegetable peeler), wash and dry salad and, with close supervision, chop some fruit & veg. After they have prepared the food, they are always more enthusiastic about eating it.
Grow it -Eat it
No matter how large or how small a spot you have you can probably grow something during the summer. Tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and herbs are all easy to grow. It is also a great educational opportunity for you to share. The only problem we had with this one was when Evey cried because the vegetables were her friends……
Keep it Fun
I don’t know about you, but I am always amazed at the beautiful bento boxes and work of art plates I see. That, however, is just not going to happen in our house on a regular basis. But there are occasions when we can cut things out with cookie cutters, mix cream cheese with food colouring to make a blue sea or make banana dolphins.
Dump the Junk
If you don’t have junk food in the house, they can’t eat it. If your kids are like ours, they will moan, whine and complain when they discover that there are no cookies in the cupboard, but they soon adjust if they only have healthy snacks available.
Have healthy options available
Keep a well-stocked fruit bowl on the table. Have bags of vegetable sticks in the fridge, so they are ready to grab. If it’s quick and easy, your little ones are more likely to eat it. We also have boxes of dried fruits, frozen fruits in the freezer (great snacks on a hot day) and bowls of raw veggies on the table at lunch. One thing I would caution against is buying the ‘pure fruit juice candies’ or ‘fruit strips made from concentrate.’ There is nothing wrong with them but you are trying to get the kids to be open to trying new things – don’t just replace a less healthy candy with a more healthy one.
Mix – up combinations
We all know you can sprinkle fruit on your cereal or mix it into your yogurt but have you tried vegetables dipped in yogurt? It can be appetizing. If your little fella will eat grapes – add them to the dinner plate along with a more traditional vegetable. Throw out those preconceptions about what foods you should eat with others and when you should eat them. Raw broccoli for breakfast, pepper slices in yogurt at lunch, apple slices with chicken at dinner – throw caution to the wind!
While you shouldn’t replace every solid fruit and vegetable with liquid ones, smoothies can be an excellent way to squeeze in additional portions every day. You can mix fruit and veg in any combo you like, and if you include the kids, they will often gulp down in smoothie form something they would balk at in solid form. For more info on smoothies, including ideas for combinations check out this post
Play with temperature and texture
Because of his autism, Gabe prefers soft, smooth foods and dislikes anything hot or cold. Because of this when we have carrots I cook him a bit longer and mash them. If we have a salad, I leave this to warm to room temperature. I also save leftover vegetables and use them in smoothies. Evey likes raw peppers but doesn’t like them cooked so if we have a stir fry I leave some uncooked and add them to hers at the end. As long as the differences don’t cause massive problems work with them where you can.
Choose your words
Don’t label foods good and bad. In our house they are ‘more healthy’ i.e. fruit & vegetables and ‘less healthy’ like candy bars and chocolate. Tying emotions to food can cause huge issues with your child and lead to problems later in life. Kids are perfectly able to understand that to have a healthy body you must have a mixture of foods. This should be your starting point, and the occasional ‘less healthy’ food is fine. In the same vein – don’t use food as a reward or punishment “eat up your cauliflower and you can have something nice” sends all of the wrong signals and sets your child up to reward themselves with “nice/naughty’ foods later in life.
Finally some general tips – good for you and the kids
- Juice counts as a portion but don’t replace more than one piece a day with a glass of juice because it lacks the fibre or other fruit
- Fruit & vegetables do not have to be fresh to be good for you. Frozen, dried, tinned, stewed, potted -it all counts
- A portion (for an adult) is roughly 80-100g. That’s the equivalent of half a grapefruit, one medium apple, orange or banana, two plums, three tablespoons of berries, two tablespoons of broccoli, cabbage & carrots or 4 tablespoons of sweetcorn or peas
- A less known option is that lentils, baked beans, and chick peas count as a portion of vegetables – but they should only be one of your portions
- To make sure you get a good balance of nutrients eat different colours of fruit and veg or eat seasonal produce
- Don’t fret about having a perfect balance at every meal or even every day. Take a look at your food over the course of a week and if it is roughly a balanced diet – Well Done!
- Sorry, potatoes don’t count as a portion of vegetables so you can’t count that portion of chips!