How to get your kids to form life-long happy, healthy eating habits...
Obesity in children is the fastest growing health concern in the UK today. Lack of nutrition education, higher food costs and out-dated cultural myths and habits around food are some of the factors that can lead to children overeating or eating unhealthy foods throughout life.
To help your child form healthy life-long eating habits start educating them as early as you can. As soon as they are off the breast or bottle and you are starting to introduce food, start thinking about what types of foods you are exposing them to on a daily basis and how you would like to educate them around food as they grow up. You may already be a nutrition whiz and know your omega’s from your trans-fats, or understand that consoling kids with food can set up issues of comfort eating and that’s great, but for others who feel a bit in the dark with where to begin, start reading up on evidence-based kids nutrition in books and magazines and it will start to be just the way things are in your kitchen.
Healthy Eating Habits To Set Up Early In Life
One of my key beliefs is to encourage a savoury palate so that kids don’t get hooked on sugary foods to satisfy hunger. Sugar is found in so much of the processed foods that we eat today, from tomato ketchup to 'child friendly' ready meals, and it is easy for kids to come to expect that sweet taste in everything. Yet, as we all know sugar is highly addictive, high in calories and a key contributor to obesity in children, so it is best to expose young children to less of the sweet stuff from the start. However, of course there are many other good habits to help your child form and below are some of my top tips....
1. Portion Size Control.
Keeping portion sizes under control is crucial to positive healthy eating habits. Avoid piling up your child’s plate and forcing them to finish meals if they have eaten enough. However, many parents are uncertain about what a serving size should look like for a young child but you can get some good guidelines on the NHS website food portions page to find out more about portions sizes for young children.
2. Choose Fish Over Meat If You Can (Pulses And Legumes If Vegan).
Fish and legumes are lower in fat than meat. Oily fish also contains healthy fats omega 3’s to help with brain function as opposed to saturated fats found in meats. These omega fats support hormone health and reduce inflammation in the body, which is good.
3. Avoid Mindless Snacking.
Regular snacking is also important to avoid, stick to regular meal times and keep snacking to a minimum. Also never use food as a reward. It is an easy one to rely on as parents (we’ve all done it!) but this habit can lead to comfort eating as children grow up, interfere with mealtimes, encourage binge eating and add a whole heap of extra calories into the day too.
4. Give Children Water Only, Never Fizzy Drinks And Limit Fresh Juices As Part Of A Meal Rather Than As An In-between Meals Thirst Quencher.
Getting children to associate water with thirst is a win-win. They get hydrated through a zero calorie, acid-alkaline neutral liquid rather than calorie-laden, sweetened beverages such as squash or juice drinks.
5. Introduce A Wide Variety Of Raw Fruits And Vegetables From Early On.
These foods are highly nutritious, low fat and generally low-sugar foods if eaten in controlled portion sizes. It is great to give children the exposure to different textures, tastes and colours of a wide range of fruits and vegetable making it normal rather than strange as they grow up and have more say on their food choices.
6. Snack Only When Necessary, Choosing High Water Content Fruits And Vegetables.
There is absolutely no need for a child to be constantly munching on anything. Of course hunger pangs will come up but it is good for a child to understand from early on, that hunger is linked to meal times. If snacks are required, choose chopped up raw fruits and vegetables. They are low fat, low-sugar, nutritious snacks, which can reduce hunger pangs until lunch is ready.
7. Avoid Making Desserts A Regular Part Of Meal Times.
If your child expects something sweet after a meal then the chances are this expectation will continue into adulthood. You are not depriving them if they don’t know about sugar-laden desserts in the first place and you will be doing then a great favour in the long run. Finish a meal with a piece of fruit or a fruit salad if they really want something else.
8. Use Wholewheat Carbohydrates Instead Of Refined Carbohydrates e.g. Wholewheat Bread, Wholewheat Pasta.
Introducing blood-sugar stabilising wholegrains over white refined grains such as white pasta means that your child will stay fuller for longer and they can help to reduce cravings for sugary snacks. Wholegrains are also packed with B vitamins and fibre.
9. Introduce Hearty Soups As A Main Meal.
Home cooked, cooled down soups are great for kids. Vegetable, pulses, meat and fish can all make a highly nutritious meal and encourage slower eating. This can mean that they don’t eat too quickly and finish before the food has registered to the brain that it is full.
10. Make Breakfast At Home A Fun And Enjoyable Ritual Choosing Smoothies, Porridge Oats And Unsweetened Muesli’s.
Linking positive associations with breakfast time can often mean that the child continues to want to start the day with a good healthy breakfast. Making time to eat together and talk about the day ahead is a lovely start to the morning and eating a healthy breakfast has been shown to be crucial in maintaining a healthy weight. Avoid sugary cereals such as Coco Pops, as they are overloaded with sugar.
11. Teach Your Child Cooking Skills From As Early As They Are Able To So They Are Able To Prepare Themselves Basic Snacks e.g. Whole-wheat Cheese Sandwich After School.
Being able to prepare something quick, easy and healthy snacks at home is the most valuable skill you can teach a young person. It makes them more self-sufficient and hopefully less likely to reach for convenience foods, such as crisps and other packaged foods as they go through adolescence.
12. Be A Good Role-model
Action speaks louder than words, so no munching on Kettles Chips and Kit Kats for dinner while spoon-feeding your child a plate of lentil Dahl with avocado on the side! Kids look up to adults and often want to copy things that you do, so go on and inspire them to form good habits by eating well each and every day by leading by example.
If you have any serious concerns about your child’s weight and would like more information, make an appointment with your G.P or a Nutritionist.
Originally published on Mumazine