We all know it’s a challenge to encourage kids to eat healthy food. In the ideal world, your child would wake up and say “Mum, this morning I’d like a glass kale juice and an omelette with five veggies for breakfast please.” We all know that only happens in a parent’s fantasy land. First, most parents are too busy to make a cooked breakfast and secondly, sugary cereals have a gravitational pull stronger than Jupiter! Every parent wants their child to eat more healthy foods and every parent knows children never listen to nagging. Here are some pointers on how to stop being the green food guerrilla and become a health food hero.
Here are 9 ways to encourage kids to eat healthy food.
1. Get your kids involved
Involving your children in the planning, shopping and preparation of food is a great way to encourage healthy eating. If you have a spare patch of dirt in your garden, consider planting a small veggie garden. It doesn’t have to be an award-winner, it’s just a way of getting the kids involved and enthusiastic about eating what they grow.
Shopping and cooking with children can be enough to drive most parents to the nearest fast food chain but the long-term benefits for kids are many:
- Preparing and eating a home-cooked meal will be normal in their eyes
- They will learn how to plan, shop and prepare food and grow up to teach their kids the same way
- Children will gain confidence in their cooking skills from small victories in the kitchen
- Once they are old enough, they can prepare a simple family meal for your family to share and enjoy
- Cooking is a real-life maths lesson involving fractions (think 1/2 a cup) and multiplication (double the recipe)
2. Make it easy
Healthy food does not have to be complicated. Here are some ideas
- Keep the fruit bowl stacked with a variety of fresh seasonal fruits
- Cook extra the night before and leave left-overs for the next day’s lunch or dinner or freeze a batch for when you’re too tired to cook
- Let the kids peel veggies and eat them as a snack with a delicious hummus dip
- Cook simple foods together like eggs on toast, home-made pizzas or soup
3. Make ordering out healthy
Food that is ‘ordered out’ is not always junk food. The Rory’s School Lunch menus for primary school and high school students provide a range of healthy options. The menu uses the Ready, Set, Go traffic light system, so it is easy for parents and students to identify which foods get the green light. Parents can view the menus on our website to help kids make healthy choices before they place their lunch order.
4. Make it fun
- Cut up ingredients and allow kids to make their own sandwiches with alfalfa sprouts for hair, some googy egg eyes, a cherry tomato nose and a red capsicum mouth.
- Give food fun names. Pasta is great for this, spirals can be “piggy tails”, penne can be “dinosaur bones” and bow ties can be “butterflies”. Kids will love telling Nanna they ate dinosaur bones for dinner.
- Bite your tongue. As tempting as it is to comment on what and how much your children are eating, they will resist if you force the issue.
5. Let kids make healthy choices
Let your kids make choices about what they eat but let them make healthy choices. Instead of a snack being a biscuit, offer them a choice between cheese or yoghurt, a banana or a mandarine or tomato or pumpkin soup.
6. Do as I do, not as I say
Do you shudder at the thought of steamed broccoli and brussel sprouts? Many adults have an aversion to some types of foods even though they’re old and wise enough to know what is good for them. Children learn from their parents so be a role model for healthy eating habits.
- Choose foods you actually enjoy eating yourself, it will be easier for you to lead by example
- Try new ways of preparing vegetables. If you shudder at memories of brussel sprouts boiled for hours until they fall apart then try lightly steaming and sauteing them in some butter. Delish!
- Turn off the television and eat at the table as a family. It can be difficult when different family members are out each night of the week but eating together has been proven to strengthen communication.
7. Let them eat treats (occasionally)
Allowing occasional treats into a balanced diet takes the pressure off. If grandma wants to give the kids sugary cereal for breakfast when they sleep over during school holidays it is not likely to give you child type two diabetes. And having an ice cream at the beach is one of life’s little pleasures. As long as treats are eaten as part of a balanced diet with exercise, kids will be healthy and happy.
8. But don’t make junk food a reward
We’re all guilty of the sweet food bribe “behave nicely while we visit Great Aunt Greta and I’ll buy you an ice cream” but what are we really teaching kids? Treats are okay occasionally but we want to avoid associating sweet food with good behaviour. Alternative rewards could be:
- spending extra time with your child doing their favourite activity
- allowing your child to choose their favourite meal for dinner (assuming it’s not chocolate cake for tea)
- a special outing of their choice
- a new book or some colouring-in pencils
- some one on one time with Mum or Dad
9. The sneaky way
If you’ve tried just about everything and your child can detect a green vegetable at 100 metres then you may have to resort to more covert methods such as these. Try:
- steaming vegetables (not the pungent ones), mashing them and stirring them through dishes such as pasta sauce. Rory’s Napolitana sauce is full of sneaky vegetables but the kids love it.
- baking muffins with grated vegetables like zucchini
- smoothies blended with fruits and vegetables
These are just some of the ways to encourage kids to eat healthy food. If you’ve got more ideas, we’d love to hear about them so leave us a comment.