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How to Support Your Children With Healthy Eating

As a kid growing up in Australia, my lunchbox was made up of a sandwich, apple, and a packet of chips. A lunch order from the local milk bar was a special treat on a Friday and often included a sunnyboy (imagine a flavoured block of ice) and a sausage roll. This was a typical Australian school lunch by all accounts. Now let's travel to France where a child might open their lunchbox and find salmon and ratatouille, or to Indonesia where kids commonly have rice, meatball soup, tofu, and vegetables, and then Italy where children are served pasta, cold meats and vegetables. In other countries it is more common that schools serve children lunch and that their menus are created in collaboration with nutritionists and parents. 

It is actually quite unique that in Australia parents have to prepare lunch for their kids to take to school. It introduces challenges such as preparing food that wont spoil which means food may not be fresh, parents’ socio-economic status and ability to afford nutritional food, as well as the burden of having to organise healthy food to take to school 5 days a week. What our children eat at school is of significant importance because we now know that an unhealthy diet in children can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, poor memory and concentration impacting academic performance, sleep disturbances and behavioural problems. Young people who have the unhealthiest diets are nearly 80% more likely to have depression than those with the healthiest diets (Jacka, F., N., et al, 2010). Considering the importance of a healthy diet for kids it is an alarming statistic that fewer than 5% of children in Australia are eating enough fruit and vegetables. The good news is that it's never too late to encourage healthy eating behaviours in our kids. 

Tips for parents to support healthy eating:

Involve your kids in food preparation

Kids love to be involved in ‘adult’ activities, take them food shopping, go through a recipe book together, and get them to help with food preparation by washing and peeling vegetables, and setting the table. Involving kids in food preparation provides opportunity for connection with you, confidence, and a sense of accomplishment. Studies have found that when kids are involved in food preparation they are more likely to make healthy food choices. 

Create a vege or herb garden at home 

Teaching kids about how food is grown can help them to engage their curiosity, learn to be resourceful and increase their self-confidence. It can also teach children about patience as they wait for food to grow! Involving kids in growing their own food may also give them more chances to taste what they grow, giving them more opportunities to have a high-quality diet. 

Family meal time

Routinely eating together as a family has far reaching benefits such as encouraging healthy eating habits and reducing rates of disordered eating, improved mental health, self-esteem, communication, and connection. You can involve children at dinner time by getting them to set the table and help bring food to the table. 

Healthy school lunch boxes

Packing school lunchboxes can be a tiring chore for parents which takes time and thought. You can streamline this process by creating a lunchbox cheat-sheet for yourself! Using a whiteboard, or by creating a poster, list the main food groups (see below; including cultural considerations) so you can quickly refer to them and ‘pick and mix’ food options from as many of the food groups as you can. Including the food groups on your shopping list can help ensure you have options in the house for school lunches. Remember simple is best, kids usually want fast and easy options at school. 

Healthy food group suggestions

  1. Vegetables and legumes or beans/ crisp, dark greens and whatever vegetables are in season

  2. Whole grains: dense, chewy, country-style bread without added sugar or butter. Experiment with bulgur, barley, farro, couscous, and whole-grain pasta.

  3. Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, and seeds (the Mediterranean diet is low in meat, especially red meat, and instead opts for small portions of meat served with lots of vegetables).  

  4. Fresh seasonal fruit 

  5. Less processed dairy such as cheese and yogurt 

About Jess

Jessica is a clinical psychologist located in Melbourne and she's one of our talented 8-Week Program experts. She specialises in young people and parents going through the perinatal stage, while also helping patients manage depression, anxiety, personality disorders, relationship difficulties, eating disorders and trauma. With experience across clinical and educational settings, Jessica is now working with Orygen Digital in digital mental health program planning and implementation.

Jessica believes in a holistic approach to mental health that takes diet and lifestyle into account. She understands the monumental impact sugar can have on us and is dedicated to helping people improve their quality of life – starting with what we put on our plates. 

Instagram:  @jess.psychology

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