I Have A Confession
Having children has made me a better dietitian and nutritionist.
Yes, I am saying this publicly today...I am a better dietitian because of my children. I have been seeing children in both the hospital and privately for over 12 years now and I am good at what I do. I have attended many courses and conferences over the years, and do a lot of reading. It wasn't until I had kids that I really got the struggles that parents face over the humble evening meal. It has been hard work but now I have healthy eating kids!
I have had meals in which both my children have refused to eat anything
I have had sooo many meals where my youngest just wanted to throw his food
I have had family meals where me and my hubby's food went cold as we spent more time having to feed our children than being able to eat our own food
I have had family meals where my youngest doesn't want to eat so instead uses the time to constantly hit and kick his brother
Does this sounds familiar to you? If so, I am here to tell you that mealtimes can get better and we are the proof! These days, our boys will eat some or most of the food that they are given. They enjoy meal times and will always, mostly often come to the table, happy that it is dinner time. We often have meals together as a family that are fun. In this post today I am going to let you know some of the things that I have done over the last few years at mealtimes to help make meal times pleasant and have turned my terrors into healthy eating kids.
1. I have NEVER forced my kids to eat anything
This is probably the number 1 thing I have done to help my children to be better eaters. We all know toddlers and young children will always want to do the opposite of what you want them to do. Who hasn't seen this on a busy morning before work, when you need to get your kids dressed and they just won't listen! Well, meal times are the same. The more you want your child to eat something, the more they will likely do the opposite. We have a saying at mealtimes "You don't have to eat anything". These 6 little words have probably been the most important thing we have said to our kids at meals.
2. I aim for TASTING Food
I used to say to my kids that they don't have to eat anything, they just have to try it and if they don't like it they don't have to eat it. Over the past couple of years I have changed that to saying that I would like them to taste a new food. When we say things like, if you don't like it you don't have to eat it, then we are not encouraging our kids to try something again down the track. It may take MANY tastes of a food before a child will enjoy it so we don't want to give them a reason not to try the food again at another meal.
Aim for "tasting" rather than "trying" of new foods with your kids
If a new food is given to my kids and they say they don't like it, I just say to them, just have a taste. They are even allowed to spit it out if they really have to (though they don't often do this). Sometimes they like it and sometimes they say they don't like it and I just say thanks for tasting it. Of course sometimes they refuse to even taste the food and that is OK as well.
3. Encouraged Healthy Eating Habits from the Start
OK so I know you are probably saying to me…..of course Jennifer we want our kids to have healthy eating habits and if only they would eat healthy food then they would have good eating habits. Ok bear with me…
For most kids, they start off eating solids and say yes to vegetables with not too many issues. They tend to try the foods you give them and are happy to eat. Then something changes. At around the 10 month mark they start getting fussier, start refusing foods they once liked and meals start becoming a little more stressful.
They might start throwing food….
They might start saying no to foods they used to love…
Mealtimes become stressful….
To make life easier, you start giving your child the foods that you know they like as you want to make sure they are getting all the nutrients they need to grow. Over the next few months they start getting fussier and fussier and mealtimes become more and more stressful and you no longer have healthy eating kids…..
Now both my boys did exactly the same thing, and around 10 months I realised this was happening. I started giving them the foods that I wanted them to have and even if they didn’t want it I didn't give them something different. I made sure they got vegetables at lunch, dinners and snacks and kept introducing new foods. I was also OK if they didn’t eat much at a meal.
A Dietitian in USA called Ellyn Satter has a theory called the division of responsibility . I will write a post down the track about this in more detail. Her mantra is that it is the parent's responsibility to provide the food they want their child to eat but it is the child’s responsibility to decide whether they will eat it or not. This is a saying that I have lived by and I truly believe has helped mealtimes become a happy time.
Sometimes they ate well and sometimes they didn’t, but I was OK with that and as they got older they started eating those foods that they had previously said no to. Of course there are some foods that my boys still refuse to eat….my eldest won’t eat a quiche or frittata (but loves eggs) and my youngest refuses to eat zucchini, but on the most part they are willing to try new foods.
4. I ALWAYS exposed them to new foods
As a mum of young children, parent Facebook groups have been my saviour. They have provided me information on the best prams, car seats and children’s playgrounds. They provide me with comic relief when I hear what mischievous things toddlers can get up to and they also provide me with ideas for good restaurants and places to visit. The one question I always hear asked is, what is a good healthy eating recipe for children.
On my facebook page, I will be showing you some recipes I use that my children love but on the most part, I don’t cook special foods for my kids. I tell parents it is not about finding healthy eating recipes for the children but healthy recipes for the whole family. This is because it is sooooo important that children are given family foods from early on and this includes foods with flavour.
A mistake I see families do is to keep their child’s food really bland as they think that is what children need. This is not the case, in fact the earlier your child is given foods with flavour the more likely they are to eat that food in the future. Now I am NOT talking about adding salt to foods and in fact you might have to change how you cook for yourselves and avoid adding salt to foods.
What I mean is that it is OK to add herbs and spices to cooking when your child is young. It is Ok for them to try mild curries, stir fries or casseroles and it is OK for your child to try the food you are having for dinner. So next time you are googling “healthy eating recipes for children” try looking for healthy eating recipes the whole family will eat.
5. It's all about the Vegetables
Now I don’t know if you follow a certain “diet” or style of eating. You might be vegetarian, or vegan, you might follow the paleo diet or the mediterranean style of eating, you might be into wholefoods or maybe you follow the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating and the Healthy Eating Pyramid. Whatever your food belief, these eating patterns all have one thing in common, they all agree we need lots of vegetables in our diet.
The recent Australian dietary survey found that only 4% of Australian kids are getting enough fruit and vegetables. Except it is really hard to get enough vegetables in your kids diet if they are not being exposed to them throughout the day. I will write a blog post about this in the future but for now this is what I did….
I made sure that my kids had vegetables at lunch, dinner and at snack time. Now they didn’t always eat the vegetables but they were exposed to them anyway.
If they had a sandwich at lunch, it would have salad on it and they would get veggie sticks on the side.
When we had snacks they were always, mostly, often veggie sticks or pieces of fruit.
Offer vegetables at all meals, not just at dinner
Fruit and vegetables are the norm in our meals. Now my kids didn’t always eat them, but by constantly exposing them to vegetables and making them are part of everyday life, not just something at dinner, it helped to shape them into the veggie loving kids they are today.
At dinnertime the meal had veggies or salad as part of the meal
Was this helpful? I hope so. Please leave your comments below.
Dr Jennifer Cohen
"Providing Bite-Sized Pieces of Nutrition Information to Busy Families"
PS. If you want more great tips on how to have a calm and happy mealtime with your family, please download my guide on "7 Tips for Reducing Mealtime Madness". Click Here
If you liked this post on How I Have Healthy Eating Kids, please share on facebook and comment below