Being a parent is far from easy. It’s your job to get your kids out of bed in the morning, get them to eat something (anything) and get them to put clothes on (and smile to yourself when your son decides he’s Spider Man today). You’ve got to get them to school, fetch them from school, make sure they have food to eat, don’t forget about soccer practice, and make sure little Johnny does his homework, even when it means helping him look after an egg for a week. And nevermind that you and your partner have full-time jobs, with demanding bosses, who think it’s cute that you have kids, but why are you late this morning, and what is that on your shirt?
It’s also your job to worry about their health, in amongst everything else that’s going on, and making sure your child is eating healthily is pretty important, but very often challenging. So we thought we’d tackle this in a two-part blog post, on how to teach your children to have a happy and healthy relationship with food. Healthy eating is not just about what we eat, it’s about how we eat it, and the mindset and way of thinking that drives our choice of what to eat. In this week’s post we’ll keep it simple, starting with the importance of a balanced diet (and, no, we do not mean “a chocolate in each hand”!)
Children should follow a balanced, varied diet including fruits, vegetables, protein, fat and complex carbohydrates to maintain adequate energy for learning and getting through the day and to help their bodies grow. Research suggests that improvements in nutrient intake (ensuring enough food is eaten as well as the quality of the food) mean students are better able to learn, have fewer absences, and their behavior improves, causing fewer disruptions in the classroom. Different foods contain diverse levels of nutrients (vitamins & minerals) and by choosing a wide variety you ensure you’re getting all these essential nutrients. Here are some practical tips to increase the variety of foods your child eats:
- Remember, you’re setting the example. So if you’re always moaning about the veggies you don’t like, or only eating certain things, you encourage your child to do the same. If you want your child to eat a healthy variety of fruit and veg, then you should do the same.
- Eat seasonal produce. When fruits and veggies are in season, they are full of the nutrients your body needs at that time of year. For example, eating tomatoes in summer helps to protect us against the sun, whilst eating oranges in winter helps keep our immune systems strong
- Eat a wide variety of colours – aim for 5 fruit and veg portions a day. Eating a wide variety of fruits and veg means you’re getting a wide variety of nutrients.
- Choose wholegrain carbohydrates and try to avoid refined, sugary carbs.
- Grating or pureeing vegetables is a great way to incorporate them into all sorts of dishes – add to meatballs, burgers, soups, stews, risotto, sauces, pancake mixtures, salads or omelettes. Discover the versatility of a grated courgette! Add it to smoothies, muffins, brownies, etc. for a veggie boost – your kids won’t even notice!
- Puree fruit & mix into yoghurt, custard, desserts or porridge, or add fresh fruit to pancakes, or muffin mixes
- Get a protein boost with pate spreads, or bean / nut spreads (peanut butter, tahini and hummus). Serve with soft bread or crackers, or even as a dip with cooked or raw veggies, such as sweet potato wedges.
- Fruit smoothies can be a simple, healthy way to get your child to eat more fruit and veg. Start with a frozen banana, blended with fresh/ frozen berries and milk as a base, and experiment from there. Try adding a handful of grated courgette, or a few slices of avocado.
- Making ravioli, dumplings or spring rolls? Change it up by adding more veggies to the fillings
- Looking to increase the protein your child eats? Eggs are always a good idea, and omelettes or frittatas are also a great way to include some veggies. Baked beans are another winner, on toast, bread or baked potatoes. Give our homemade baked beans a try, for a low-sugar version.
Although many of these tips make it easy for parents to sneak veggies into their kids bellies, we recommend taking the opportunity to teach them about the different fruits and veggies, and show them how yummy they can be. And work with what you child already likes to eat. Maybe your child loves oranges and chocolate. Think of ways to incorporate these ingredients together in healthy, fun ways – like an orange and cacao smoothie, or naartjie segments dipped in dark chocolate. You can slowly start to introduce other flavours and combinations, mint, for example, or what about orange and thyme roasted carrots. Engage your child, ask them what is it about oranges that they like, is it the sweet-sour citrus, maybe the bright colour, or possibly the ritual of eating a fresh, juicy orange. Use it as an opportunity to educate them about citrus fruits – where they come from, how they grow, and the different types. This is a great way for kids to learn, and gets them excited about the food they’re eating.
By finding ways to encourage your child to eat a wider variety of foods, you’re not only improving their nutrient intake, but also teaching them to try new things and explore new ways of cooking, new cuisines and new flavours, making for healthier tummies and happier hearts. Keep an eye out for next week’s blog post!
Here at The Munching Mongoose we strive to deliver snacks to support a balanced and varied diet. Our Munch Packs are designed in partnership with a Paediatric Dietitian, Lindsay Archibald-Durham, and are perfect as lunch packs for young children, or snack packs for adults and teens. They include a balanced variety of protein, healthy fats and wholegrain carbohydrates, to keep you and your family going, and are free from preservatives and refined sugars. Visit The Market for more information.
This blog post was written in partnership with Paediatric Dietitian, Lindsay Archibald-Durham.