If you’re looking for ways to encourage healthy eating habits for your children then you’re in the right place. I’m a mum to two young children, a girl age five and a boy age three. Luckily my daughter has always been very open to trying new foods, even if she assumes she won’t like it. She’s always had a bite or a try. My son, on the other hand, is very different. If he doesn’t want to try it or thinks he won’t like something, then he’ll point blank refuse. Short of us forcing something in his mouth, there’s no chance. He’ll also love a food one day, then detest it the next day and never eat it again. Still, we are a healthy household and want our children to eat the healthiest food possible so we won’t give in. Reuben, my boy, still eats a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and wholegrains and I’m sure as he grows a bit older he’ll get more adventurous and try new things.
It’s so important to me to provide the healthiest diet possible for my children. The nutritional advice out there is a minefield and I’m certain much of it is misguided and incorrect leading many parents to make poor food choices for themselves and their children. You may have already read my opinion on why I believe getting your 5-a-day does not make you healthy and why I think the ‘everything in moderation’ diet is a load of baloney!
Too many parents make the wrong food choices for their children
Last night I started watching the documentary Fed Up on Netflix and was continuously frustrated through the whole thing. Frustrated the parents are still picking the wrong food choices for their children and not researching properly themselves, but also frustrated at the food companies and governments for allowing this to happen and realising in many cases it’s not the parents fault, but the misleading food companies. The parents are trying to do their best by purchasing low fat alternatives for their obese children by thinking these are better and healthier choices. Low fat usually just means more added sugar, which is stored as fat if we don’t use it or our bodies are overloaded by a lot of free sugar at once. Read my blog post the problem with refined sugar to learn more about the dangers of refined and added sugars in food. Food companies make claims on their food packaging which entices parents in to thinking they are making healthy choices, but in reality they are still picking highly processed junk food.
As parents we should be giving our children the best start in life by providing the healthiest diets. Diet affects everything; our health today and in the future, our mood, our mental health, how well we learn, quality of sleep, our ability to fight off infection and disease, our appearance. Food is more than just something that tastes nice and is there for our pleasure. Sure, I think food should be enjoyed, but firstly we should think about eating the most nutritious foods, then about enjoying it. Too many people put pleasure over nutrition and make the wrong food choices.
An insight into the food we have at home
In our home we are a meat free, dairy free, refined sugar free household for the most part. My husband still buys mayonnaise which has added sugar, but I use Mayo Rice with no sugar. I just need to encourage him to try it and make the switch! He also occasionally still buys a big bag of regular crisps or some Trek bars, but that’s all I can think of with added sugar. I’ve been on my healthy journey for a few years, whereas hubby is just starting out and making some drastic changes a lot quicker, so I’ll let him off! Ideally I’d not even have these items in my home so we are 100% refined sugar free. Everything else we buy is dairy free, refined sugar free and meat free. I do the weekly food shops and most of our shop is vegetables, followed by salad, fruit, wholegrains and some healthier snacks for the children and me (mostly Organix).
I choose organic food for nearly everything we buy unless there isn’t an organic option, then I’ll begrudgingly buy what’s available or wait until there is an organic option and go without. We make homemade meals every evening aside from one night a week where we have chippy chips as a treat (we’re not perfect). We don’t have a microwave and never buy ready meals. We do buy frozen peas and sweetcorn (Waitrose have organic versions) and sometimes buy vegetable patties from Tesco as these have no added sugar and are mainly vegetables and potato. Otherwise we don’t have any frozen oven type food.
We buy organic wholemeal pasta, so we don’t make pasta from scratch, though we have tried before. Pasta sauces are made with chopped tomatoes and spices. Curries are made with coconut milk and curry pastes by a company called Free & Easy (no sugar). We eat sausage thanks to Ocado selling seaweed and pea protein vegan sausages by a company called Dees. We also make our own creamy cheesey sauces with homemade oat milk, nutritional yeast and mustard. We have garden chickens and eat their eggs, though I’ve cut them out very recently and might stop eating eggs altogether. The kids and Ben, my husband, eat eggs regularly though. They also eat honey, but I’ve sort of stopped this too! Our overall diet is mostly plant based, organic and wholemeal created from wholefoods with no additives, chemicals, GMO or questionable ingredients.
Living this way and encouraging our kids to eat this way will hopefully set them up for optimal health for life. I hope they follow in our footsteps and continue to lead healthy happy lives as adults making the correct food choices and safeguarding their future health.
Top tips to get kids to eat healthy foods
Based on our experiences, here are my top tips for encouraging children to eat healthy diets:
Don’t wait! Start from day one, as soon as you are weaning your children give them the healthiest most nutritious foods possible. I’d hope 100% of parents do this anyway, weaning babies onto pure fruit and veg and preferably organic. It always baffles me how we’ll feed our babies the most pure healthiest foods possible, then not treat our own adult bodies with the same respect, or our children’s. Introduce healthy foods from a baby and toddler and let them develop a lifelong taste and love for it.
Never give bad foods
If they never have bad foods, then they’ll never crave them. My children, for example, have never had fizzy drinks. I’m absolutely against fizzy sugar filled health destroying pop, especially aimed at kids, so they’ve never had it. Because of this they never beg us for it when we eat out. They don’t know what it is and haven’t developed a taste for it. Unfortunately we’ve not had the same luck with chocolate and sweets and it’s difficult when attending parties or when other family members buy them some, but as we never give them at home or buy them ourselves our children are pretty controlled with their intake and always (most of the time) ask our permission first. If you give bad foods at a young age then they’ll get a taste for it and may even prefer it over heathy foods, making your life a lot more difficult.
Give options, all healthy
Let your children make their own food choices, but only give healthy options. Choose a few meals or snacks they can have and let them pick. Just don’t give a bad option. That way your children still gain the independence of making their own food choices but with your guidance ensuring it’s only a healthy choice. This is especially important when they are so young and can’t understand the consequences of a bad food choice.
Let them help with food shopping
Let your kids pick one or two fruits and vegetables at the supermarket or when doing your online shop. Include them in the shop and see what they choose. If they’ve chosen it then they’re guaranteed to eat it!
Grow your own fruit and veg
There’s nothing more satisfying than eating produce you’ve grown yourself and this is the same for children. Grow some fruit trees or vegetables in your garden each year and see how excited they are watching the plants grow and develop. Let them help pick the produce and they’ll be so proud to eat what they’ve created themselves.
Get the kids to prepare the food
We struggle with this one as our kitchen is so tiny, but we have plans to make some more space and encourage the children to help in the kitchen more often. Kids love to help out, especially when it comes to food preparation. Ours are usually bursting with pride when they’ve made a meal themselves and are more likely to eat everything, including the foods they’d usually be fussier about.
Teach nutrition from a young age
Our daughter has a much greater understanding of nutrition than I ever did at such a young age (she’s five) and is already applying it to her food choices. She’ll eat up all her salad telling me it’s good for her and will make her strong and healthy. She listens to what we have to say with eagerness and asks questions about the benefits of the food she eats all the time. We’ll continue to teach them what we know and what we’re learning about food and hope they will develop a passion for learning to be healthy at a much younger age. I only wish I knew what I knew now in my 30s back as a child.
Choose healthy organic snacks
We have no ‘bad’ snacks in our home. There’s no regular chocolate, crisps, granola bars, sugar filled yoghurts, cakes, pastries or regular biscuits. Sure, we eat snacks, but not the conventional type. We choose Organix and Ella’s Kitchen baby snacks which are all organic and contain no added sugar. The children will also be encouraged to choose a piece of fruit after a meal if they are still hungry or will have jam on wholegrain rice crackers (that’s jam with no added sugar as you might have guessed!). They also have ice lollies made from 100% fruit and vegetables.
Even better make your own
We also make a lot of our own snacks such as delicious chocolate energy balls with cacao powder, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Chocolate milkshakes are also popular made from oat or almond milk, frozen bananas and a teaspoon of raw cacao powder.
Set a good example
The best thing a parent can do is to lead by example. If we’re trying to encourage the kids to make healthy choices, but they see us eating junk food then it’s never going to work. To ensure they want to be healthy we need to show them ourselves how to be healthy. We need to educate ourselves, make the right choices ourselves and then pass this knowledge onto our children.