- Start earlyFirst, establish healthy eating habits in the early years of your child’s life. Make healthy food normal. Be sure to set a good example by eating healthy food yourself, and avoid packaged and processed foods, because your children will imitate you. You should aim to eat food as close to its natural state as possible. Promote this habit by disguising healthy food. Add vegetables to a delicious stew, mash-up carrots with mashed potato and think about the way you present food so that it appeals to children.
- Involve your childrenCook with your children. Cooking more meals at home is an effective way to ensure the nutrition of your meals, and including children in the preparation of the food makes them more familiar with the ingredients of their meals and teaches them a valuable life lesson. Have your kids decide what is on the menu some days, and who knows; they might even start cooking for you when they’re old enough. You could even take this one step further and grow some food at home if you have space and the resources.
- Eat breakfastThis may sound obvious, but many people skimp on, or skip altogether, the first meal of the day. Encourage your children to eat a wholesome and substantial breakfast, which will help them study and play and feed them food such as enriched cereal, fish, meat, milk, eggs, cheese or yogurt.
If you’re strapped for time, you could try one of the following techniques to ensure a healthy breakfast:Boil eggs at the beginning of the week and give one to your children every day, as well as a piece of fruit and some healthy cereal. Make breakfast burritos and freeze them. Fill a wrap with scrambled eggs, chicken or beef and cheese. For toddlers, these can be smaller, or mini burritos.
- Come togetherMeals should be an experience. They can bring families together and can reinforce the importance of meals as a healthy daily ritual. Sit down at least once a day to eat a meal as a family, and if your toddler is at home with you most of the day, eat with them as much as possible. Encourage children to enjoy healthy food and the experience of eating, and as this will help them to make positive associations with nutritious food. Eating together allows you to model healthy eating to your children and to talk over any problems your children are having. There are enormous benefits to sitting down together to enjoy a meal that has been prepared by one or more family members.
- SnacksChildren of any age like to snack. Limit their access to sweets and unhealthy snacks, and offer them fruit instead. Of course, this won’t appeal to many children, so, as mentioned previously, find a way to present the fruit in an appealing way. Add a dash of honey to chopped fruit, and for summer days, make popsicles with 100% fruit juice or kebabs with different fruits. Remember, presentation is important, so try a variety of different colours. Furthermore, make a fruit treat. Sell the snack as a reward or special treat from an early age to create the habit in toddlers. Try carrots or celery with a dip such as hummus, or offer some cute little protein balls. Need further inspiration? Go fruit picking with your toddler!
- SugarThe great temptation. Children crave it; we crave it. However, children can get all of their required daily intake of sugar from that which occurs naturally in food. That’s right, nutritionists tell us that there is no need to add any sugar to food, provided a child is eating a balanced diet. Added sugar can lead to diabetes, weight gain, dental problems, obesity, hyperactivity and mood disorders later in life, so avoid adding any sugar to the meals your toddler consumes. Kids are 2–18 should have less than 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily for a healthy heart, recommended for children by the American Heart Association. The average soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar. Also, studies show about 75% of packages of food in the USA contains added sugar. Again, the message is clear; avoid packaged and processed food where possible.
- Refined carbsFoods such as white bread, pizza dough, pasta, pastries, white flour and white rice, as well as many popular breakfast cereals, fall into the category of simple or refined carbohydrates. This simply means that they are refined grains that have been stripped of bran, fibre and nutrients. Not only have these foods removed the nutritious element, but they also provide a sudden rise in blood sugar, which, as we all know, produces significant mood swings in children, as well as negative physical side effects. Aim to feed your toddler what are known as complex carbs. These can be found in food such as nuts, fruit, beans, brown rice, whole wheat or multigrain bread, high fibre cereals and non-starchy vegetables. As mentioned earlier, eating food close to its natural state can help to keep your toddler healthy. Complex carbohydrates provide longer-lasting energy because the body digests them more slowly.
- AlternativesToddlers will demand tasty food. As hard as you try to keep them to healthy foods, they will taste junk food at some point, and they will be hooked. So, how do you steer them away from the food they crave?
Here are some alternatives:
- Choc chip cookies – Fig bars, vanilla wafers or fruit with caramel dip
- Doughnuts and pastries – Bagels, English muffins or home-made pastries with less sugar.
- Fried chicken – Baked or grilled chicken.
- French fries – Baked fries, lightly salted and grilled.
- Ice cream – Yoghurt, sorbet or fruit smoothies.