"Studies have shown that life-long eating habits are formed early, and that parents have the biggest influence"
A mum of three shares tried-and-true nutrition tips
If you've ever struggled to slip those essential fruits and vegetables into your child's diet, or you worry that your children may actually turn into a bowl of mac 'n' cheese, keep reading! As a mum and naturopathic physician I have become an expert at balancing the goals of a raising a healthy family with the unpredictability of daily life. While my ideals haven't changed, I've had to find new, quick, and easy ways to help my family eat healthy and stay happy.
Studies have shown that life-long eating habits are formed at an early age, and that parents have the biggest influence on children' food choices. With that in mind, I developed these tips to make sure that my three children will grow up eating well, and will also enjoy what they eat:
1. Be realistic
When my oldest started school, she discovered all sorts of new and unhealthy snacks. Don't try to hide things that children love, just look for healthier alternatives like homemade fruit juice iced lollies, and whole-grain or multigrain foods instead of refined flour pastas, breads, and biscuits. Instead of fizzy drinks, try juice diluted with fizzy water.
2. Don't give up
It's funny: one day my children may gobble down stems of broccoli, other days they'll leave it to wither on the plate. We've found that if we keep putting a food in front of them that our children will eventually taste, if not like, it.
We avoid making special meals for our children by always including at least one food we know they'll like, and making sure that "problem" foods become part of a well-liked meal. Some of our favourites: spinach and squash puréed into a pasta sauce, chicken enchiladas filled with sweet peppers and courgettes, and pita bread hummous sandwiches topped with grated carrots and cucumbers.
3. Eat the rainbow
We try to include a colourful blend of vegetables at meal time both for nutrients and to appeal to our children' visual senses. A favourite trick: We set up a salad buffet and have a contest to see which child can get the most colours on their plate. Try it out: grated beetroot, sliced carrots, chopped red cabbage, cauliflower florets, tomatoes, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, cucumbers, green pepper slices, dried cranberries, and a couple of different salad dressings.
4. Look out for taste triggers
Pay attention to what your children like. One of ours likes vinegar, another likes sweet. While it may seem hard to please them both, it can be easier than you think. Cooked carrots release the sugars to make them sweeter, but a sprinkle of vinegar after cooking can add a bit of sour.
5. Get children involved
When at the store, let the children manage the produce part of the shopping list-challenge them to pick the freshest, best they can find. Even if it takes a little more time, invite children into the kitchen to chop, spread, sieve, or simply put the food on plates. We also started trying variations on favourite foods, which we write down as special family recipes. Jump in with something easy and flavoursome: build smoothies together using a variety of frozen fruits, 100% fruit juices, soya or rice milks, and low-fat yoghurts. When you find the perfect blend, write it down and later let your children make their own.
Terrific Kid-Pleasing Picnic Ideas
Pack a basket with treats children make themselves for outdoor eating adventures
Say "picnic" to children and watch their faces light up. Magic happens when meals are eaten in the open air. Maybe it's eating in a different place-outdoors, on the ground-with no table or chairs! Maybe it's the special picnic food, the easy-to-transport-and-nibble treats. Even spontaneous rainy-day picnics inside on the playroom rug guarantee delight. Children also adore the opportunity to cook, so double the fun by letting them prepare their own picnic goodies.
Make these kid-friendly picnic favourites
Picnic foods children make themselves needn't be complicated. Think no-cook snacks and bite-size finger food, simple sandwiches, cheese sticks, fruit and vegetable chunks, drinkable yoghurt cups, and you're there. A little adult supervision is the trick to get things ready.
Combine handfuls of small biscuits, dried cranberries or raisins, almonds and a favourite dry cereal for a jazzy snack mix.
Make rainbow fruit wands alternating apple, pear, melon or pineapple chunks, strawberries, and grapes on wooden skewers; for safety's sake, break off the pointed end after the fruit is on.
Use rolls of sliced ham or turkey, cooked hot-dog or tofu-dog chunks, green pepper slices, stuffed olives, and cheese cubes to vary skewer combinations.
Make funny face sandwiches using a 3- or 4-inch (8- to 10-cm) round pastry cutter to cut out bread slice circles. Place a circle of cheese on the bread and use cucumber rounds, pepper slices, cherry tomato halves, and sliced olives to make eyes, nose, eyebrows, and mouth.
Spread whole-wheat tortillas with softened cream cheese, then layer your child's favourite salad leaves, turkey or ham slices, and grated carrots; roll them up and they're ready to go. "Hold them together with a party toothpick and they'll look pretty, too," advises Gillen Freebing, age 13, of Memphis, Tennessee.
Toss precooked bow tie or elbow pasta with mayonnaise, peas, and halved cherry tomatoes; season with salt and pepper for a flavoursome picnic salad.
Stash water bottles or juice boxes in the freezer an hour before leaving so they're super cold; add fizzy water to juice for a fizzy drink substitute.
Buy these picnic essentials, too
Ensure children have a super-fine picnic by packing these basics in their basket:
Large blanket or tablecloth to sit on
Nonbreakable plates, cups, and utensils
Napkins, handiwipes, and paper towels
A large rubbish bag (don't leave any litter behind)
Sunscreen, insect repellent