Children often need some encouragement to eat their fruit and veg, particularly when more appealing sugary, fatty and salty junk food is advertised much more prominently, and easier to serve at dinner than cooking a healthy meal from scratch. Switching to a healthy diet has huge benefits for children, and it is more straightforward than you might believe.
Healthy eating helps children maintain a healthy weight, avoids health problems and can boost their energy. A healthy diet has also shown to have a positive effect on children’s mental wellbeing, helping prevent depression, anxiety, ADHD and bipolar disorder. If you think you need to make changes in the food your child eats as a parent or guardian, then we have put together the best ways to encourage your child to eat a healthy diet.
Lead By Example
Children are very impressionable, and leading by example is a great way to get your child eating more healthily – as well as yourself. If you eat the same food as them and avoid munching on crisps while making them have a healthy snack, you are likely to prevent bad eating habits from appearing. Changing your own eating habits will make it easier to improve your children’s. Swap the unhealthy snacks for those with less sugar and salt, and only indulge every so often, not each weekend.
For younger children who like to say no at every opportunity, it might be a good idea to use a reward chart. This offers simple reinforcement of good behaviour and will also help you track their eating habits. Put a sticker on the chart for every meal they finish or try a new food, and reward them when they reach a target, such as all evening meals finished in a week. Using a reward chart will turn the effort of trying new things into something positive.
Cook at Home
Full-time work often means a ready meal or takeaway is much easier to handle than cooking something every night. However, ready meals have more added sugar than home-cooked food. Do meal preparation before shopping, and don’t try something too difficult when you know you don’t have the time. A simple meal can be just as healthy as something you have spent hours making and try doing meals in large batches too, so you can just re-heat leftovers when short on time.
Get Children Involved
Getting the children involved in the meals they eat can make them appreciate it much more. They will learn about where the food has come from, the cooking process, taste the food and see their hard work served out for the whole family to enjoy. Involving children with the food shop also means they can help pick their favourites too, and taking them to the deli counter or butchers gives them a chance to ask questions about things you might not be able to answer.
To get your child to try new foods, they may have complained about before, introduce some theme nights! The theme could be a specific country’s cuisine, such as Chinese, Indian, Mexican or Thai, or based around a particular food or style. Having a theme night is not only educational for the children but encourages them to try new foods they may have not previously been exposed to, and you may end up discovering a new favourite!
When watching cooking and baking shows, you realise that taste isn’t everything; presentation of the food plays an important part in how people receive it. Add some glamour when serving out food, such as making a rainbow of colour on the plate, make shapes out of the food, adding sprinkles such as seeds, mixed herbs or cinnamon. If you are feeling particularly artistic, place food on the plate as an animal – though not too well as children might not want to destroy your handiwork by eating it!
Change How They Eat Food
It can often be the texture of the food which puts children off what they eat. Not everyone likes the rubbery feel of fried mushrooms – try mixing them into a Bolognese sauce instead. Puree vegetables into a soup or blend fruit into a smoothie. Serving the food in a different way helps the children to forget what they are actually consuming. By making small changes on how they are eating their food, you may soon find fewer arguments are happening on their refusal to eat certain foods.
Make Meals Family Time
One way to get your children eating healthy is by making mealtime special, by sitting down and eating together. Make sure they are sitting at the table, correctly using their cutlery and not wandering off. Give the children tasks, like setting the table, clearing dirty plates or getting everyone their drinks. Turn off the TV or radio to reduce the distractions and make the meal a family affair, eating your meal at the same time. Having meals together will help you keep an eye on what they are eating and gives you a chance to spend more time with them.
At St Peter’s Prep, a mixed boarding school, Devon, we work to make sure all our pupils are following healthy diets that give them the energy to play and work hard in class. Children all eat in hot healthy lunches in the Dining Hall with their teachers. The focus is on a healthy, balanced food choice, as well as table manners. Take a look through our website for more information on curriculum, topics and policies at the school and take a look at other blog posts for news about the school.