Do mealtimes sometimes feel like you’re taking the proverbial horse to water but it refuses to drink? Or rather eat vegetables? If your children are anything like mine, getting them to eat a healthy, balanced diet (or more specifically vegetables) is a bit of a mission. I lovingly prepare a healthy dinner, packed full of vegetables and what happens? There are cries of “yuck” and “I don’t like pasta, I only like spaghetti” or “Why did you put so many vegetables in it?” ‘it’ being the vegetable pasta.
At times, I wonder if it’s worth the effort. But I know it is. I know that if I instill healthy eating habits now, my children have a much greater chance of continuing those habits into adulthood. A lifetime of healthy eating, greatly reduces your chances of getting some pretty nasty diseases. Obviously obesity is linked to diet (and all its complications of which some like heart and lung failure are actually life threatening.) But there are also others, certain cancers, which are linked to diet. And not life threatening, but very common and not very pleasant is constipation.
So yes, I know that teaching my children healthy habits is worth while. But amidst those cries of “not more vegetables” and “I want more ham”, how does one go about not loosing your sanity or your temper?
Look at the big picture
The first thing I would advise, is to look at the bigger picture. Take the zen approach to veggies! That particular pea or carrot is not worth arguing over. Children usually win the “Battle of the Pea”. They are stubborn and you can’t beat them. The crosser you get, the more they refuse. Look at the bigger picture. You’re trying to teach them habits for life. In the same way that teaching them to swim or ride a bike doesn’t happen over night, nor does healthy eating. Some children (not mine) will naturally choose healthy foods, but the majority prefer sweets and ice cream, which is fine from time to time, but shouldn’t be ‘always’.
Do it together
Eating healthily together is another great way to help children grow up with good eating habits. Children learn by copying what they see. If they see their parents eating healthily and enjoying it, they will eventually join in. I know, I know, meal times with young children can be noisy, boisterous affairs but stick at it, they’re only little once. (And I know that this can be difficult for people due to working patterns, but do it as often as you can and if that’s not very often, make a celebration of it.)
Get them involved
Eating and cooking healthy food doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive. Actually, it probably works out cheaper to cook from scratch than using all those not so healthy packet options. Get the kids involved. Mine love making apple crumble (which is essentially cooked up apples with a bit of topping.) Not only is it cheap and easy to make, it’s nutritious and much better for you than most of those puddings that come in pots. (And for some reason my kids think it’s great fun to eat the apples whilst we make it, a bit like licking the cake mix off a spoon but actually just nibbling around the cores.)
Variety is the key
Another great trick is to offer them a variety of healthy things to eat, dips and raw vegetables is a great way to start. It seems to work by bamboozling them with choice. They seem to forget that they ‘don’t like carrots’ and try them amongst all the other things. Last week my 3 year old even ate celery. (OK, he didn’t today but trying it is a start.)
There are loads of tricks and tips to try. Stick at it, don’t loose heart and you’ll get there in the end.
Dr Orlena Kerek is a pediatrician and mother of 4 young children (still small enough to fit in the bath together). She has a website that focuses on what to do when your baby is ill at snotty-noses.com and blogs about raising healthy happy children at snotty-noses.com/blog/. She has a special interest in helping children eat a healthy diet. If you sign up to her newsletter, you’ll get a free copy of 30 Tips to get your Kids to Eat and LOVE Vegetables. You can find her here on Facebook.