Food and hungry children is recipe that does not always mix well. We’ve listed some practical ways you can ensure that mealtimes are happier and healthier rather than feeling like you are a member of the “food police.”
1. Know what you are trying to achieve.
When you have spent your hard earned money or time on a meal that your children don’t want to eat, it’s hard not to get upset. However, it can help to focus on the long term goals, rather than on each meal or snack. Ultimately we want our children to know how to eat appropriately. This means they can recognise when they are genuinely hungry or thirsty and respond to their needs in a healthy way, stopping when they are full.
If your child is struggling to finish their meal or is a picky eater, consider providing smaller portion sizes rather than insisting that they finish a larger serving. Of course, if you have concerns about your child’s weight or health, then always seek medical advice.
2. Be a role model.
If you’ve ever been embarrassed by your child imitating your behaviour, you will know that children like to copy others. This is especially true for you, their parents and carers! So your children are far more likely to skip or eat their breakfast or avoid or enjoy their veggies if you do too.
Try and model the habits you would like your children to adopt. One way to do this is to set regular times aside to eat meals at the dinner table together. This also assists children to learn appropriate table manners and to learn to eat slowly and savour their food.
You can also involve your children in food shopping, baking and meal preparation in an age appropriate way.
3. Eat fruit and veggies that are in season.
If you try and provide seasonal produce you will naturally eat a larger variety of foods. This will assist your family to eat a balanced diet and also to try new foods. As an added bonus fruit or veggies that are in season are generally cheaper.
4. Give yourself time.
For consistency and to avoid being overly hungry, try and eat meals and snacks at roughly the same time each day. If you are going to be out at a normal meal time try and eat before you go or take a healthy snack with you.
Families often have different routines during school holidays. This may affect sleeping patterns as well as meal time and the types of food you consume. To avoid problems try to ease back into your term time routines a week or so before you are due to return.
5. Follow good hygiene and health practices.
Help children stay healthy and increase meal time independence by encouraging good hygiene. This includes cleaning teeth after meals and washing hands before eating. Teach children that food needs to be stored appropriately to stay fresh. For example, meat and dairy should be stored in the fridge while lids should always be replaced on containers as soon as possible.
6. Watch for hidden fats and sugars.
Do you know how much sugar and fat your family has every day? Sugar and fats are often hidden in many of the products that we buy, and go by many different name on their ingredient lists. For example, processed or “low fat” foods, which often are presented as healthy options, often contain high amounts of sugar. One rule of thumb is to remember that the more processed an item is, the more likely it is to contain sugar or fat. On the other hand, fresh foods are more likely to contain nutrients and fibre. You can try to lessen your intake of sugars and fats with food swaps to less processed items. For example, instead of buying flavoured yogurt try adding fruit to plain yogurt.
Windermere Child & Family Services offer both Long Day Care and Family Day Care Services in Melbourne’s south east.