Getting your kids to eat healthy food can be a challenge, to say the least. Here are some tips to help you win the battle this holiday and for the rest of the school year:
- Start early. Introduce as many flavors and textures as possible when you wean them onto baby food..
- Do a PR job. “Sell” fruit as a dessert before your children get hooked on the idea of cakes and sweets as dessert. For example, try saying, “Mmmmmm. Mummy has got such a lovely mango for you today when you have eaten all your lunch.” This really works. My two see fruit as a real treat!
- Pretend your children have never rejected a vegetable in their lives. Keep putting things on their plate that you know they are unlikely to eat. Casually suggest they try it. If they won’t try it, don’t react. If they do, give them lots of praise. This can be terribly disheartening, but trust me, persevering means that one day, the child will give in and try it. A woman I know got her son to start eating cucumber after putting it on his plate approximately 20 times. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea.
- Go stealth. Hide vegetables. If they’ll eat Bolognese sauce, lasagna, curry – in fact anything sauce- or soup-based – grate carrots into it. Chop up mushrooms and peppers really, really small and throw them in. If they really like pasta, you’re onto a winner. Whizz up all sorts of vegetable concoctions, stir just a teaspoon or two into pasta, pile on lots of cheese, and they won’t even notice it.
- Make your own burgers with mince, onion and grated apple.
- Get creative; think laterally. Some kids won’t eat beef casserole on its own, but if mixed with a spoonful of it into a jacket potato, they’ll eat it with enthusiasm.
- Remember that no matter how much they won’t eat, they will always surprise you. Never underestimate your children’s tastes!
- Mash or slice banana into their breakfast cereal. Or, grate some apple in it.
- Be discerning about convenient “snacks“. Cubes of plain cheese are much less processed than the brands marketed for lunch boxes. Choose yogurt-coated fruit or raisins as a “treat” instead of sweets, and rice cakes or a handful of seeds / nuts instead of chips.
- Use “tricks.” The right reinforcement can work wonders. Some kids love a particular children’s TV program in which the lead character is very active and needs “”sports candy”" to give them energy. “Sports candy” is actually apples, and many kids will happily chomp through at least two a day. Also, if they are told that one of their best friends’ favorite food is broccoli, they are much more likely to try it. It’s even better if you can get the aforementioned friend to join you for lunch and eat the broccoli together.
- Get them involved. It’s pretty easy to grow things like tomatoes in the garden, and they’ll enjoy watering and picking them.
- Bribe them. OK, we’re onto desperate measures now. Bribing (“If you eat all your lunch, you can have x or y.”) works short term, but use it carefully and sparingly.
If all else fails, try not to worry. Also try not to get into big battles; it’ll convince your child that this eating thing is a horrible process. Keep in mind that with children, most things are phases and will pass. Just keep on offering healthy options. Let them see you eating and enjoying healthy stuff. Relax – life as a parent is full of worry as it is. And let’s face it, when they’re teenagers, they’ll spend all their pocket money on sugar-laden sweets and fatty chips, and we probably won’t even know about it!