Most parents know only too well how challenging it can be to get your children to eat their five plus worth. Here are some fun, healthy and somewhat sneaky ideas that may just tickle your sprogs’ tastebuds.
Getting your offspring to eat anything that’s vaguely healthy – as in not white, processed, full of sugar – can be almost as difficult as obtaining a PhD in mechanical engineering. In their world, healthy food items, and particularly vegetables and fruit, often appear to be aliens. And they just won’t eat-stuff from another planet, full stop.
How much easier would mums’ and dads’ lives be if we could just put Two Minute Noodles, a piece of chocolate cake and a bag of chippies in our kids‘ lunch boxes or on their dinner plates and have them scoff it all down enthusiastically every single time. I bet one or two of you have toyed with the idea, or even given in to your littlies’ demands and then tried to convince yourself that food full of MSG, preservatives and sugar isn’t so bad.
While nothing is bad if you have it occasionally, it is vital for your young tribe members to eat good, nutritious food most of the time, both for their physical and mental growth. Even scientists have been amazed by how much a balanced diet of good-quality protein, fat, carbohydrate, vegetables and fruit affects a child’s behaviour and improves their learning ability.
Just remember: Choose good-quality wholefoods – these will deliver the nutrients your growing child needs. On the flipside, avoid processed and packaged convenience foods as much as possible as they are usually of preservatives, sugar and sodium.
Healthy Eating Tips And Tricks
Every child is an individual with their own personal likes and dislikes, so it comes down to a bit of trial and error, but the followings tips may help instil good eating behaviours in your child. Give it a go!
Little Does It
A child doesn’t have a stomach the size of an elephant, so feeding them adult-sized plates of food is not the best idea. They’re likely to feel so overwhelmed by the sheer sight of it that they won’t touch it. Instead, arrange bites-sized pieced of chicken or roast beef, cucumber slices, red grapes and a few pieces of mild cheese and half a piece of toast on a side plate. If it seems achievable, they’re more inclined to get struck into it.
Kids aren’t really that interested in how food tastes, they’re more interested in how it looks and whether it sounds yummy. So it pays to put your artistic hat on when you’re preparing their meals. Think smiley faces made with rice (use a ramekin to shape the rice), cucumber slices and craisins for eyes, julienned carrot for hair and a cherry tomato nose. A flower made from a small piece of beer (cut round) with peas as petals could also steal your little ones’ heart. For breakfast, try a soft-boiled egg and use a cookie cutter to cut bread into interesting shapes for dipping into the yolk.
The Subtle Art Of Substitution
For every type of food your child despises there is a healthy substitute. So don’t force them to eat a piece of something if you know they won’t like it (think typical suspects like capsicum or olives), otherwise they will probably be so put off that they’ll never want to try it again. If you just don’t serve the disliked item again until a later stage, they may come to like it in their own time.. Just remember how many things you didn’t want to eat as a child that are now your favourites.
Not All Bad Foods Were Created Equal
Not all perceived bad foods are really that bad. Take tomato sauce – it’s packed with the potent antioxidant and cancer fighting agent lycopene, so it’s okay to serve it with your kiddies meals. Just make sure it’s a type that’s low in sugar and sodium.
If it is burger and chips your littlies crave, why not make homemade versions from good-quality mince (that’s the protein sorted), and oven-fry some wedges? Sweet treats can be healthy too – try milk shakes with a dollop of creamy yoghurt or ice cream and bananas or berries added for a powerful protein-vitamin blend.
Don’t Force Them To ‘Eat Up’
If your child doesn’t finish their whole plate of food, don’t worry about it – unlike many adults, kids generally have a built-in ‘fullness’ gauge, so if there’s food left, you’ve probably served too much. A ‘must eat everything on plate’ adage can encourage overeating and weight problems later in their life.
Limit Their Options
If a child doesn’t eat their dinner, but you serve them dessert instead, you’re sending out mixed messages. Put a meal your kid abandoned at dinner in the fridge and if they do get hungry later, offer it to them again as a treat, instead of giving in to their ‘sweet demands’. Tough love in this respect may help them to accept different food more quickly.
Cultivate Little Chefs
Involving your kids in the food shopping and preparation process will give them a sense of purpose, achievement and control. Make a shopping list of what you’re intending to buy and let them pick and pop some of those items in the shopping trolley. Also give them the chance to help prepare a meal – that eat you share some quality family time and they’ll be more inclined to eat it if they’ve made it themselves. Give the kids skewers so they can make their own vege and fruit kebabs, or cut up fresh produce and ask them to create an ‘edible artwork’ with it on a plate. Other options include making sushi, or carrot and zucchini fritters.
Given that you’re only looking after your kids’ health and wellbeing, it’s perfectly okay to tell them the odd white lie about what’s really in the food you’re feeding them when they ask you. Easy ways to hide good food in dishes include: grating vegetables like carrots or zucchini into meatballs or bolognaise; adding minced veges to a chicken or tuna salad, and adding spinach or carrots to a fruit smoothie for a vitamin kick.
“With younger kids, the basic old-fashioned stuff is great, packed into a cool compartment lunchbox. Good-quality bread with marmite or honey, a variety of sliced fruit, a small homemade muffin out of the freezer. Handfuls of Nutragrain and sprinkling sesame seeds or linseed on their jam sandwiches also go down a treat.”
Tried And Tested Kids’ Food Fixes
- Call the shots: Serve a little bit of vegetable soup puree in shot glasses before each meal, or fruit smoothies with breakfast. It means their vege and fruit needs are dealt to with just a few sips. If your child can’t stomach a vege shot, add a little spinach to a fruit smoothie.
- Finger foods are ideal for small tummies. Try a variety platter of chicken pieces, ham or a quartered hard-boiled egg, with some cheese cubes, pineapples pieces, dried fruits, grapes and carrots.
- Choose three vegetables and get your kids to choose which two they would like to eat.
- Make homemade pizza using wholemeal flour – let your kids choose their preferred topping and add it to the base.
- Spread rice cakes or wholegrains cracker with peanut butter, all-fruit spread or cream cheese. Kids love all things crunchy.
- Make fruit easy for kids to eat by cutting them up into bite-sized pieces and arranging them in an attractive way on a plate.
- Instead of jams and jellies, make peanut butter sandwiches with banana slices, raisins or berries.
- Cut raw veggies into bite size pieces and serve them with peanut butter or another nut butter like almond and cashew (all a great protein fix), pesto, salsa, hummus or guacamole.
- Instead of flavoured yoghurt, add sweetness by mixing all-fruit spread, chopped fruit or a drizzle of honey with natural yoghurt.
- If your kids like tuna, egg or chicken salad, sneak some minced veges like carrots, celery, zucchini or cucumber into it.