It is our role as adults to guide children towards healthy eating. By starting them off on the right foot early, we can set them up for optimal health throughout their life. Since all children learn from what they see, we can encourage healthy behavior just by eating healthy ourselves. The following are some tips on how to teach healthy eating habits for young children:
- Lead By Example – your children will love eating the same foods as you, so make sure you are practicing what you preach. It’s not only a benefit for them, but for you as well! It is many times harder to get a child to eat a food that you yourself will not eat. Open yourself up to new foods, this will encourage your children to be fearless with their food!
- Gradual change – make any dietary changes, slowly. Introduce a ‘Vegetable of the Week’ and offer it at least 10 times. Each time cook it in a different way or served with a different meal. What your child may dislike roasted, they could really like steamed. By offering new foods often, this new exposure may be avoided initially, but persevere, eventually, they will take a bite! Children will often run in cycles of likes and dislikes. One day they will love bananas, the next they won’t want to look at it. This doesn’t mean, we as parents, should stop offering it. Eventually they might just start liking the food again.
- Make your own versions – fish fingers, pies, sauces and soups can all be made at home with less time and effort than people imagine. By doing this, you know the quality of the ingredients that are in the finished product and can avoid any unknown ingredients. Preparing meals daily, displays behavior that should be encouraged. If children see meal preparation in their home on a regular basis, they will be more likely to follow similar activities as they get older.
- Innovative presentation – make mealtime fun with special children’s cups and plates. Encourage water drinking by investing in a colorful cup with a bendy straw. Buy a few different styles of plates, or cut the food into different shapes and sizes! Meal time should be a time for discovery and excitement. Let them touch their food with their hands, enjoy the food in their own way. It might be messy, but if they are allowed to experience the food in their own way, children will be more encouraged to eat and enjoy new foods.
- Involve your child in selecting, cooking and growing – your child will be much more likely to try a new food or meals if they have been involved in selecting, cooking or even growing it. Take your child shopping with you and allow them to pick some fresh food of their choice, or find the ones on your list. Get them to help wash the vegetables, count out the number of each you need, and do other age-appropriate jobs.
- Teach the benefits – make sure your child understands the importance of healthy food. Teach them that a healthy diet will allow them to grow up to be strong and full of energy. Explain to them the differences between each food group, what nutrients we get from each, and why they are important. So for example: teenage girls explain the importance of meat and alternatives for appropriate iron stores. For younger children, explain the importance of milk and alternatives for the Calcium required to grow big and strong.
- Snack time: Store freshly cut vegetables or fruits in the refrigerator. Encourage your child to have them as snacks. Make assorted nuts available for your children to eat whenever they feel hungry. Having healthy snacks available to children when they need it, will encourage healthy eating and prevent them from snacking on high fat/salt snacks.
- A note for the picky eaters: managing the struggles of a picky eater is never an easy task and it can often leave parents frustrated! Sometimes it’s best to take a step back and allow the child to make some decisions and learn for themselves. It is the role of the parent to determine: WHAT to offer, WHEN to offer it, and WHERE to offer it. It is the role of the children to determine IF they will accept the food, and HOW MUCH they will eat.
A Few Extra Pointers:
- Reward charts – if your child needs to increase their vegetable intake, for example, set that as a goal for them and allow them to track their progress on a reward chart. Make sure rewards are NOT food-related – it could be them choosing a weekend activity, selecting their favorite film to watch, or having a friend over. (making rewards food-related places superiority on the ‘treat’ foods over everyday healthy food)
- Avoid drinking your calories – promoting water and milk to quench thirst while avoiding sweetened beverages will help to control total calorie intake. We often do not realize the calories consumed through beverages, but it all counts!
- Eat meals together – meal time is for sharing your day with each other. It gives you the opportunity to bond, making the experience more enjoyable and encourages proper meal time habits for a lifetime to come.
- Instill the importance of eating breakfast – Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you need to tell children that. Tell them why it is important and how your body needs to come out of the fasting state.
Turkey and Barley Shepherd’s Pie
- 2 cups (500 mL) diced Yukon gold potatoes (approx 2 large)
- 3 cups (750 mL) diced sweet potatoes (approx 3 medium)
- 2 tbsp (25mL) non-hydrogenated margarine
- ¼ cup (50 mL) 2% milk
- 2 tbsp (25 mL) olive oil
- 1 cup (250 mL) diced onion
- 1 cup (250 mL) diced carrot
- 1 cup (250 mL) diced celery
- 1 lb (454 g) ground turkey
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp (10 mL) dried thyme
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup (250 mL) frozen peas
- ½ cup (125 mL) pearl barley
- 1 cup (250 mL) sodium-reduced chicken stock
- Place potatoes and sweet potatoes in a large pot of water and boil until soft enough to mash. About 20 minutes.
- Drain potatoes and mash with margarine and milk. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat oil in a large stock pot. Add onion, carrot and celery and cook over medium heat until softened. About 10 minutes.
- Add ground turkey and cook until no pink can be seen. Break apart large chunks with a wooden spoon.
- Add in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350º F (175º F).
- Place turkey mixture into a 6 cup (1.5 L) casserole dish and top with the mashed potatoes.
- Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until the potatoes start to brown.
Make ahead: Assemble the casserole and keep in the fridge for 24 hours. Reheat in the oven for one hour or until heated thoroughly.