If your kids only like eating cereal or chips – fear not! There is a shame-free way to get them excited about fresh fruit, veggies and even fermented foods like sauerkraut and tempeh. But it’s not just about the food – it’s about the mindset. Here are 4 dos and don’ts to get your children eating all the colours of the rainbow, without damaging their self-esteem.
Don’t: Ascribe a moral value to food
Many of us are guilty of calling some foods good and others bad – for instance, broccoli is considered among the holy-tier of good foods, while we might call chocolate bad or even devilish. There’s a reason they call it death by chocolate! But psychologists and nutritionists have found that while some foods have a stronger nutritional profile and lower GI than others, it can cause more harm than good to ascribe morality to foods. Instead of saying, “don’t eat that biscuit, it’s bad!” consider unpacking what you really mean when you say “bad”. It can help to open a discussion around food and why some types are essential for a healthy body and others should be considered a treat – this eliminates the judgemental and fear aspects, both of which can lead to cycles of cravings, binging and guilt.
A child who eats a slice of cake at a birthday party can bounce back easier into eating wholesome foods if they don’t believe they’ve been bad – instead of punishing themselves, they hop back on the wagon without a hint of guilt or shame. It makes behaviours like hiding and hoarding foods and secretive eating far less likely and sets kids up for a healthy relationship with food. Plus, have you ever given into a craving and eaten a piece of chocolate, only to end up demolishing the whole block because you “ruined” your progress? By judging yourself, you end up eating more ultra-processed foods than if you had simply acknowledged what happened, gently unpacked why it happened and then moved on without self-criticism.
Don’t: Encourage restrictive eating
Research in the Pediatrics journal found that weight and fat-shaming, along with pressuring kids into restrictive diets can result in a vicious cycle of disordered eating. It also was found to increase insecurity and poor body image, so be sure to steer away from these kinds of diets and take care in the way you speak to your children about health and weight. If, as a parent, you’re entering any calorie-restrictive diets that are a risk to your health – and we do advise against this – the research shows that it’s essential not to endorse those diets to your children. Research shows that parental dieting – including the modelling of a diet and encouraging others to join the diet – is linked to poor eating habits in children, along with long-term health difficulties. Medical professionals suggest instead to have open conversations about healthy eating and the benefits – for instance, talk about how vitamin K in leafy greens can boost bone health and vitamin C is a great immune-strengthener, rather than focusing on weight loss. Remember, kids watch their parents closely and imitate what they see. If they see you eating restrictively and criticising your own body, they’ll treat themselves in the same manner.
Do: Get them in the kitchen
Getting kids involved in the cooking process is one of the best ways to get them excited about what they’re eating – and help them understand what actually goes into a meal. There are numerous benefits to cooking with the kids:
It introduces them to new foods: If your kid’s not a fan of fermented foods, getting them cooking is the best way to change their tastes! Whether they’re adding a bit of sauerkraut to a tasty roll or enjoying a steaming cup of miso loaded with crunchy veggies and crispy tofu, they’ll be opened up to a whole new world of ingredients and tastes. It's one of the best ways to help them get acquired tastes for foods they previously avoided, and by experimenting with cooking, they might find they enjoy certain foods cooked a particular way. For instance, sautéed carrots could be favourable to boiled carrots and they might prefer their kimchi in an omelette rather than with rice. The adventure of cooking is a fun way to show them how variety and whole foods are fun!
Encourages healthy eating: When they’ve put the time and effort into cooking, kids are more likely to want to eat the food. Plus, since they’ve had a bit of input in the process, they’ll likely feel they have more control over what they’re eating, thereby making them feel more enthused about their food, rather than seeing it as a chore.
Do: Start from the ground up
Growing your own veggies is a simple way to cut down on time and money loss – but it’s also a great way to get the kids involved in the growing process. They can have fun planting fruit and veggies outdoors and watch as they grow. There’s also the added bonus of pesticide-free food – plus, with inflation at a 30-year-high, it’s not a bad idea to have a back-up plan for pricey fresh produce. Growing fruits and veggies also brings out the creative side in kids as they can organise the veggie garden or indoor pots if you’re an apartment-dweller. It also brings an element of structure and order as they tend to the garden, but unlike their maths homework, they can actually see the progress before their eyes, giving them more motivation and encouragement to keep going – and to eat the rewards! Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Herb gardens: From mint to parsley, set up a pot in your kitchen and you’ll never have to buy pricey herbs again. Plus, the kids will love the smells, further encouraging them to eat healthy.
- Leafy greens: Spinach and bok choy are surprisingly easy to grow at home – whether you have a garden or not, you can easily get started with these. They’ll only take around a couple of months until they’re ready to harvest!
- Cucumbers: These are so easy to grow, but they love the light, so be sure you’ve got a sunny area to plant them in. They also make for a great lunchbox snack for the kids!
- Strawberries: Strawberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow – and they’re loaded with antioxidants. A simple pot will do the trick, ideally with compost-enriched soil for those growth nutrients!
In your own health journey, it can help to look at health outside of weight. Think instead about healthy bone density, energy levels, blood circulation and mood – when we unpack how different vitamins and minerals improve our health, we start to appreciate food and how it nourishes the body. Instead of thinking in terms of restriction and weight loss, think in terms of nutrition optimisation and what makes you feel well. When you eat better and feel better, you model healthy living to your child – and the benefits are lifelong.
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