Family Healthy Eating: Some Practical Strategies.
It's one thing to look after your own nutrition, but when you’re trying to bring your family along with you and encourage everyone to eat well, it’s a whole other ballgame. I don’t claim to have all of the answers and am constantly trying to get the balance right, but here are a few ideas that have worked for us.
1. Be stealthy. Don’t announce that the whole family will be embarking on a massive health kick so all junk food has been thrown out and it’s kale smoothies all round. This provides the perfect setting for resistance. Instead, chip away at one meal at at time, experiment a bit until you’ve got everyone eating a healthier breakfast, then move onto snacks, then dinners.
2. If introducing new foods is a challenge, there are a couple of things that may help. When they’re presented, try to have familiar foods around at the same time, and be happy if just a small taste is taken. It might take lots of small tastes before the food is accepted. Often, raw veg is more acceptable than cooked, and if that’s the case, just go with the flow. Textures play a huge role so trying different preparations - e.g a non-blended vs a blended soup, is worthwhile before writing anything off.
3. Don’t feel bad for limiting snacks. Yes it’s true that children need to snack more than adults, but that doesn’t mean they should graze all day long. If you can keep your kids away from snacks for at least an hour before dinner, you may find that they eat much more of their lovingly prepared meal. I know this is hard because to listen to my sons, you'd think they're about to die of hunger when I stick to this rule - but neither has actually expired so far.
4. Try to have at least one ‘Happy Meal’ each week. You know I don’t mean THAT kind of happy meal! What I mean is a meal that you all eat together, where everybody has something that they enjoy. This might mean a picnic-style affair with everyone helping themselves from bowls set out on the table or just a dish that everyone likes. Eating together is about so much more than food, and having a meal where everyone is relaxed and there’s no pressure just reminds us that food can be fun. If you can get some participation in putting the meal together, so much the better.
5. As adults, try new foods and talk about the fact that they’re new foods to you. It’s good to make it normal to experiment. Also, if they’re horrible - don’t pretend that they taste good, but try to describe the taste - make it an experience. It’s good to think about how your kids might feel when they’re being asked to try new things. On this basis, when I was offered some dried insects in front of my kids recently, I didn’t have a leg to stand on and gave them a go (they’re crunchy and totally inoffensive!).
6. Piggyback on their love of screens. A recent ad by VegPowerUK aired on ITV to encourage kids to eat more veg. Try showing it to your kids, and follow the campaign on social media to keep the ball rolling. Also, if you use twitter, follow the @TasteEdFeed handle.They are an education foundation that go into schools and encourage kids to try new foods. The photos and videos of their lessons give a bit of inspiration as to how you could do similar things at home and some would be good to show kids because the reactions are just so engaging.
7. Be sneaky. If it’s hard to get obvious vegetables into your children’s diet, totally go down the sneaky route. E.g. grating or blending veg to go into bolognese sauce, chilli, soups and pasta bakes. You can usually get away with a few salad leaves in a berry smoothie (if you can make this with dairy/non-dairy milk rather than juice, it’s a much better option).
8. Consider using supplements. I definitely don’t consider these overkill and the nutrients that I’m most concerned about are Vitamin D and Omega 3 if no oily fish is being eaten. There are some kid-friendly versions but before you go and buy a load, try to get a sample to see if they’ll actually be tolerated. Ones that I’ve tried are these Omega 3 splats, Natures Plus’ Animal Parade chewables and Viridikid capsules which are tiny and easy to swallow.
9. Ask your kid’s dentist to have a chat to them about sugar at their next appointment. I do feel that sugar is Public Enemy Number 1 when it comes to children’s nutrition and dentists are often great at briefing kids about how to avoid/reduce sugar intake. The huge advantage of a chat from a dentist, is that it doesn’t seem to be tuned out as easily as parental ‘nagging’...
...If you've sussed the whole family eating thing out - I salute you and ask that you share your secrets on my facebook page.