Teaching children to eat a healthy diet packed with the nutrition they need is every parent’s wish, but how do we ensure our bad food habits and hang-ups with diet aren’t copied by our kids?
Children are sponges; they watch and absorb everything you do and say – whether you are preparing meals, buying food in the supermarket, chatting with friends or how you feel about your own body. As they get older, external influences such as school-friends, fashion magazines, television shows and adverts also play their part, which is when it becomes even more important that they have good role models at home.
Here are some tips on teaching your children what a healthy diet really is, what good nutrition means and how to make the right food choices for life.
Focus on good health and nutrition, not weight
Show your children that a good nutritious diet is about ultimately about maintaining good health so we have the energy and zest for life to accomplish our goals and do anything we dream of . Never let the emphasis be about losing weight and never let your children hear you say that you are going to diet to lose weight. Instead teach them that an active lifestyle and a nutritious diet packed with wholegrains, pulses, oily fish and plenty of fruit and vegetables will keep them healthy inside and out.
Do not use food as a reward
It is in our psychology and culture to reward with food. We are all guilty of using an ice cream as a reward for being ‘good’, as a bribery tactic to quieten them down or as a tool to cheer them up if they have been hurt. It is also easy to think that as a grandparent it is our role to spoil them with sweets, biscuits and other goodies when they come to visit. I don’t need to spell out the obvious flaws in this sort of behaviour or the subconscious emotional association we are encouraging our children to develop with food. Instead, reward children with a trip to the park, hide-and-seek around the house or an hour playing the game of their choice.
Encourage them to eat when they are hungry
Encourage your children to listen to their bodies and eat when they are hungry, not just because the food is there. If they have had enough, do not push them to finish everything on their plate. You are meant to end a meal satisfied – not bursting at the seams.
Watch your portion sizes
Less is more when it comes to portion sizes, not just for your kids but also for you. If your children see you loading up your plate, they will presume that is the norm. Instead of serving food directly on plates, serve meals in communal bowls on the table and allow everyone to help themselves. Set an example of taking smaller portions initially, and coming back for a little more if you still feel hungry.
Healthy snacks and keeping a balance
Provide your children with healthy snacks such as chopped up veg with humus, yoghurt with fruit and honey, rice cakes with cheese or a handful of dried fruit and nuts. But maintain a balance. Do not deprive them of ice cream, chocolate, biscuits or crisps completely, but tell them if they ate that yesterday, they need to eat healthy snacks today and tomorrow.
Make your own treats, don’t buy them
Kids love to bake and enjoy watching the ingredients they mixed up rise in the oven into a beautiful sponge. If you make your own cakes and biscuits rather than buying them, you avoid processed foods and all the rubbish that comes in them such as preservatives, additives and flavourings. If you make your own you know exactly what has gone into them, you can control how much sugar you are adding and opt for healthy ingredients such as oats or wholegrain flour instead.
Let them help in the kitchen and talk about food
Encouraging children to help prepare meals is a great way of explaining what good nutriton and healthy food choices are. Make meal preparation a family affair, explain why you should eat 5 portions of veg a day, why oily fish is good for you or why you eat meat twice a week. This will give them the ability to know what good nutrition and a healthy diet is, rather than just plonking the food in front of them without any explanation.
By Lynda Hamilton
Lynda Hamilton is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist BSc, BHSc (N&D) at Hamilton Dietetics. If you would like to speak to a dietitian, get in touch with Sydney dietitian, Lynda Hamilton.