Time to get children to eat healthily

December 29 2015

LOTS of us vow to eat more healthily as a New Year’s resolution, and it’s a great time to get children involved in healthy eating. We spoke to Jackie Novels, who runs children’s cookery parties as Meals for Squeals, to get some tips.

Q: After the indulgence of Christmas how can I get my children back to eating healthily?

A: It’s best to go cold turkey (boom boom). Having chocolate biscuits for breakfast at Grandma’s house may have become the norm over Christmas. You may well face a mutiny when you reintroduce normal, healthy foods - but stick with it. It’s hard not to cave in and say “Okay, just one more day of chocolate,” when faced with screaming children, but if you do that it will just take longer to get back to normal.

Q: My child only eats the same few foods. How can I get him to try new things?

A: You’re the boss, and that includes at mealtimes. You decide what to serve your children. If they decide not to eat it, that’s okay, but they don’t get to start snacking 15 minutes later. It’s always a good idea to give them one food you know they like at each meal, so something on the plate feels safe. But not so much of it that they will be full if they eat just that – if they’re still hungry, they’re more likely to try the other foods.

Q: Should I give my child vitamin supplements?

A: Yes – it’s a really good idea for them to have a Vitamin D supplement. It’s essential for healthy bones, but very hard to get enough from food. NHS advice is that all children under the age of five should take a daily supplement. But in the winter months, when there’s not enough sunlight to make vitamin D through our skin, it’s a good idea for older children to take an age-appropriate vitamin D supplement too.

Q: I’m not a great cook. How can I make sure my child gets a healthy diet?

A: We’re lucky that there are lots of options for healthy eating that don’t involve spending a lot of time in the kitchen – lots of meat and fish comes ready to cook, you can buy fruit already peeled and sliced, salad is ready washed and cheese cut into portions or already grated. Make sure your child gets at least five portions of vegetables and fruit a day – frozen vegetables are a good idea as they mean you don’t need to throw them out if you only use a few at a time, and can be steamed in the microwave with a tablespoon of water in minutes. A quick meal that involves virtually no work might be a couple of grilled lamb chops, a couple of types of vegetable steamed in the microwave or over a saucepan, and a microwave bag of brown rice. It takes the same time, and very little additional work, to cooking a ready meal, but you know exactly what’s in it. Stick to water if you can for drinks, rather than fruit juice and smoothies which are very sugary (even though it’s ‘natural’ sugar it has the same impact on the teeth).

Q:  What’s the best way to teach my children about healthy eating?

A: It’s easy to turn healthy eating into something children ought to do, rather than something they want to do – then it becomes a chore and something to rebel against. But you can subtly promote the benefits of eating healthy food, without sounding like government pamphlet. For example, if you’re adding vegetables to a bolognese sauce, you may say it’s because we’re supposed to eat five vegetables a day. But alternatively you could say that the tomatoes will help keep the meat juicy while it’s cooking, and the onions will add flavour, and the mushrooms give it a more interesting texture when we eat it. The latter gives children a reason that benefits them now to eat a healthily, because their food will taste better, rather than a vague concept of future health.

Q: How can I get my children more interested in what they eat?

A: Encourage your children to take over cooking one meal a week. They can find a recipe online that they like the look of, write a shopping list to buy the ingredients, make the meal and serve it up. How much help they’ll need from you depends on their age, but it’s a really good way to get them interested in cooking and learning kitchen skills that they’ll use for the rest of their lives.