10 ways to help your child develop a positive relationship with healthy food.
Words GWYNETH TEO
As multi-tasking mums who juggle work with family, we easily fall into the trap of relying on processed food and snacks for our kids Ð like ready-made pasta sauce, frozen supermarket fish fingers and chicken nuggets, biscuits and crisps. Popular snacks like potato chips and prawn crackers contain ‘empty calories’ – they have little or no nutritional value. Excessive consumption of such foods may lead to obesity which is associated with an increased risk of adult obesity and chronic diseases including high blood cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes.
Assistant manager Pauline Tan, 41, makes it a point to let her kids try all sorts of foods so that they develop a taste for all kinds of food, especially vegetables and fruit. The avid chef would puree vitamin-rich foods like avocados and prepare carrot sticks as snacks for her three and five-year-old. She would also use any leftover banana to make muffins which she would leave in the fridge for her kids. “Teaching kids to eat healthy foods at a young age will help them develop healthy eating patterns for life,” says Pauline.
While not every one of us can expect our kids to bond with healthy food right from the start, it pays to be adventurous, especially by trying out yummy recipes that will attract them to the dinner table. A rule of thumb – avoid processed foods and opt for healthier versions that you can make on your own. Go for whole grains and a variety of vegetables that will provide the vitamins and minerals essential for your kid’s development and growth.
It can be tough to get your children to eat a balanced diet, especially for young children who will spit out their morsels with the slightest hint of vegetables. Still, we should not give up. Since we are our kids’ best role models, you should adopt healthy eating habits yourself such as eating more fruits and vegetables.
Here are ten tips to help your child develop healthy habits at a young age.
Throw out the Junk
It may be easy to reach into the food ladder for a packet of chips or biscuits to give to your children when their hunger pangs strike. However these snacks are usually low in nutrients and high in sugar and calories. Hence, avoid keeping loads of sugary cookies or potato crisps in the food ladder. Tell yourself that no matter how time strapped you are, there will be time to whip up a healthy snack for your fussy eater. Try to stock your ladder with healthier snacks such as whole grains.
Inject Variety and Colours
Give them a variety of fruit and vegetables. Teach them that all the vibrant colours in fruit and vegetables derive from natural plant chemicals that our bodies can benefit from. Since different colours have different health benefits, it will make them strong and healthy to eat a variety of different colours each day. Offer your kids a colourful snack of different fruits and berries.
If your child does not mind fruit, encourage him to snack on an apple instead of unhealthy snacks. To entice a child who does not like fruit, give him a few types of fruit in a large bowl like cherries, bananas, grapes and strawberries, and have him choose the fruit he would like. Most kids like bananas, especially if he is allowed to peel it by himself. Give your child a small tub of yogurt with berries or strawberry strips which he can use to dip in the yogurt. Bake some homemade banana muffins or make a strawberry smoothie.
Junior Chef Wannabe
Let your kids watch Masterchef Junior or buy a children’s recipe book with all the fun recipes that he can try out. He can have fun ‘playing’ with food such as spaghetti to make a face and hair and cherry tomatoes as eyes and a baby carrot as a nose. Make popcorn – it takes just five minutes and is much healthier than crisps.
Get Them Involved
Involve your kids in meal preparation, from shopping for ingredients to preparing them for cooking, so that they will be more motivated to try out the dishes. Take the time to explain to them the importance of healthy foods and praise them or give them a reward for trying it out.
Don’t Forget Breakfast
This is the most important meal as it starts one’s body engine so it pays to cultivate the habit of eating a proper breakfast to maintain a reservoir of energy that will last your kid through the day. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate affair if your child does not have much of an appetite – choose wholemeal bread or at least a glass of milk.
Stay Hydrated with Water
Instead of juice or sweet drinks, your child should choose water at meal times and only consume sweet drinks occasionally as he needs water which is essential for him to function, not sugary drinks. You can even make your own frozen juice bars with 100 per cent pure fruit juice.
Focus on the Food
Avoid letting your child use the tablet to watch his favourite YouTube video or eat his dinner in front of the television. Encourage your kids to eat regular meals with you at the dining table which will teach valuable social skills. Take your time at meal times – eating slowly is an ideal way for weight control. Show kids that it takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to transmit the message that they are full to their brains. Be patient – although we may want our children to finish their meal in a flash, like adults, they need time to chew their food properly.
Cooking can be Fun
Show your kids that cooking can be fun. Let them put on an apron and help you with safe tasks around the kitchen, like washing vegetables or scooping the dough for baking. As they get older and are more dexterous with their hands, let them cook dinner during the weekend. Enrol them in a kids’ cooking class to get them hooked on cooking.
Choose Healthier Recipes
Choose healthier parts of the meat, such as chicken breast which is ideal for quick stir-fries or kid-friendly breaded ‘chicken fingers’ which you can make to replace deep-fried nuggets. And it’s simple too! Coat the chicken in whole wheat flour and bake. To get your kids to eat their vegetables, chop vegetables into interesting shapes to make them seem more fun and exciting or cut them into tiny bits as filling for an omelette.
Choose healthier snacks – think fresh fruit, wholemeal bread or wholemeal biscuits with lettuce and low-fat cheese slices. Inculcate a liking for vegetables by giving them carrot or cucumber sticks with low-fat yoghurt dip, fruit and vegetable salad.
Give Them Time
Don’t give up easily. Young children need time – as much as ten times – before they like a new type of food so persist in your attempt to encourage your kids to taste something new. Before you get started, you have to bear in mind that you need to persist in giving them the healthy foods. Your toddler may turn you down when you first offer him something healthy but he will one day tell you that “that is nice mama and I want more of it!”
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