How to get children to eat healthily?
Despite our best efforts, it’s sometimes difficult to make our children eat what’s good for them or eat enough. It’s not about them having the perfect diet but about making sure they are well-nourished to grow and develop in the best possible way.
There are many little tricks to help your child get all the nutrition they need – only a few might work for you but don’t give up, time and patience are key.
- Involve your child in meal preparation or cooking, depending on their age, to make them interested in what they eat.
- Cut fruit into smaller pieces and combine colours – making food visually attractive helps to encourage children to eat it.
- Cut vegetables into sticks or slices – offer these between meals and with every meal.
- Include some fruit or vegetables with every meal and make it a habit.
- When making sauces, stir or blend in ingredients to increase nutritional value – tahini (sesame seed paste), nut butter, lentils or beans.
- Grate tofu or tempeh into meals – some children might want to pick pieces out of a meal but if it’s grated, for example in a pasta dish or risotto, they will eat it.
- Blend fresh fruit (and vegetables) into smoothies – you can also add nuts, seeds, plant milk, silken tofu or oats to increase the nutritional value.
- Use wholemeal flour for baking – it contains more nutrients than white flour, including protein.
- When making soups, always add some pulses – peas, lentils, beans – to add protein.
- For children of school age – always pack some nuts and dried fruit into their snack/lunchbox or put them in a bowl at home so children (and adults) can nibble on them.
- Make energy balls – if you own a powerful blender/food processor, throw dried fruit, nuts and oats in it to make a ‘dough’ and then shape little balls from it. Add some cocoa powder to make chocolate energy balls!
- Let your child choose between two or three options – don’t ask them what they want but give them a choice.
- Lead by example – eat the same foods and eat together; if your child sees you eating what they’re eating it will encourage them. On the other hand, eating something different to your child might create more problems.
- Don’t give up – children may need as many as 20+ exposures to a new food before they take to it. Keep each exposure relaxed, don’t force them but make sure they try the food and praise them for trying.
- Don’t introduce more than one new food at a time – even better add the new/healthier food to their favourite food.
- Make mealtimes happy and drama-free – don’t hover over the child to watch their every bite but try to talk about nice or interesting things, say how good the food is or tell them where it comes from.
- Discourage unhealthy snacking between meals – of course children can have a treat sometimes but they shouldn’t be filling up on crisps and sweets and then refusing to eat a proper meal because they’re full. Make sure they always have a healthy snack available.
- If your child doesn’t want to eat something, try to offer it with a dip – vegetables with hummus or bean dips, blend tofu with some mayo, even plain ketchup will do (just make sure they don’t eat more ketchup than vegetables); and try fruit with nut butters, tahini or blend dates with banana and a few almonds for a sweet dip.
- Let your child choose some fruit and vegetables when you’re shopping – or give them a choice between two options (to save time)
- If your child wants something they shouldn’t have, offer an alternative or two – that way, they are not denied and retain some feeling of control over the situation.
- When buying treats, opt for a healthier version – wholemeal or oat biscuits instead of plain flour ones, chickpea or lentil crisps instead of potato ones, savoury rather than sweet popcorn.
We all have ideas of how our children should eat while reality is sometimes very different! It’s important to do our best and accept that nothing will ever be perfect. Don’t give up trying but don’t be too strict either. Steer them and their choices and with time, you’ll find your own tricks and workarounds. In the meantime, praise them (and yourself) for every step in the right direction.