Candice Smith, Head of Vitality’s nutrition strategy, shares 10 tips to help your kids love healthy food:
- Start early: Playing with different food combinations and recipes from the first stages of weaning and introducing children to a wide variety of tastes and age-appropriate textures helps them become less picky and more tolerant of new tastes.
- Let them decide how much is enough: Plate food in small bowls and plates as big bowls make big appetites, and don’t force a child to finish a plate of food – rather let them learn to tune into their own body’s messages, and stop eating when they are full.
- Be positive: People are more receptive to positive messages about what to eat. If you’re a parent, it’s better to focus on the benefits of broccoli and not the harms of hamburgers. Naming healthy foods after superheroes is also a novel idea to encourage healthy eating. Instead of avoiding unhealthy foods, rather improve the nutritional value of a traditional kid’s meal by giving only small portions of unhealthy foods. Offer healthy foods along with small portions of indulgent foods such as hot chips – this will help prevent kids overeating when they are exposed to unhealthy options.
- Cut out the liquid sugar: Soft drinks and fruit juices can contain a sugar hit of up to 10 teaspoons of sugar per can without any nutritional value and a limited contribution to the feeling of fullness. Plain water (still or sparking) is the best quencher when your child is thirsty, or even offer plain milk.
- Go raw: Try serving raw vegetables, as many children prefer them to cooked veg, and slice, segment and peel fruit, rather than serving it whole. Making healthy choices as easy as possible helps to encourage intake.
- Make time to mindfully enjoy meals as a family: In addition to meeting nutrient needs, this is important for developing social skills and making meal times enjoyable. Sit down to eat with your children whenever possible, and eat without distractions. This allows children to concentrate on the food in a relaxed environment.
- Make food fun: Learning about food is a valuable activity, so encourage your children to spend time with you while you tend your veggie garden and while you’re cooking. Learn to cook together at the Vitality HealthyFood Studio, and receive a 25% discount when you book a kids course during June. Use the promocode HFSKids.
- Avoid bribes: Don’t use dessert as a bribe or reward for eating. If pudding is part of your child’s planned meal, don’t insist that he cleans the plate first. Using persuasion or bribes to get children to eat often has the opposite effect, and children eat less than if left alone. Making food a reward can also lead to a child developing an emotional relationship with food as comfort or a reward, and this in turn can lead to disordered and unhealthy eating patterns. Rather reward with trips out, school or art supplies, extra reading time before bed, listening to music or playing a favourite game.
- Let your little ones help you shop: This is a great way to show them the best food choices. Talk about different nutrients in fresh produce, and how they support a healthy body, and let them choose different items to try. Avoid tantrums at the sweet aisle by giving your kids a treat from the fresh produce or dairy aisle as soon as you arrive.
- Mix it up: If you serve the same things every day boredom can set in and children will not learn to enjoy their food. A variety of foods is also more likely to fulfil your family’s nutritional needs. There is no need to ban foods, but rather increase the portion of the healthy foods and offer the unhealthy food in a moderate portion.
Over- and under-nutrition are significant challenges in South African preschoolers – with nearly 1 in 4 overweight or obese, and 1 in 5 stunted. 2016 Healthy Active Kids South Africa Report Card (HAKSA).