School bags packed and back to routines for the last 2 weeks also mean the end of endless summer treats and ice creams. We would all love for our children to eat whole foods, and we also want to avoid meal time battles at the end of the day!
Here are my five top tips to help children to get into the routine of eating fresher, healthier and whole foods.
- Be a Role Model for Food
The first thing I always ask my clients is look at your own eating habits first. Children are great modellers and do as you do (not always necessarily what you say).
If you are eating whole, unprocessed foods and lots of fresh fruits and green vegetables they will learn to eat them…but…if you are living on caffeine, very little fresh food & you never sit down to eat…how can we expect our children to believe that a plate of salmon & fresh veg will help them to be stronger, well & concentrate better at school!
Experiment with some vegetables on their plates every day, even if they only have a bite, and then try the same ones again in a few weeks. The trick is to crowd out the processed options by phasing in healthier alternatives. It will work over time I promise, consistency is the key (even when we are exhausted ourselves!) It is what you do every day that builds habits.
- Have Breakfast
A good breakfast really does set everyone up for the day and improves concentration and behaviour. I know it can often be a mad rush in the morning; so if it is a quick slice of toast or bowl of cereal it is what is in or on it that counts. Have glasses of water on the table too, it helps with concentration & energy for the day.
Upgrade the boxed cereals for muesli or porridge with a little honey over. Put some nut butter, hummus or avocado on toast instead of the jam or chocolate spread. It is just as quick if you have it to hand and will definitely set you up differently for the day. A trick is not to buy these things when you next run out so when they are asked for you don’t have them in the house. Gradual sustained changes are key.
- Become a food detective
Educate yourself and learn to read labels. If it has more than 5 ingredients it won’t be a whole food! If sugar is the first 3 ingredients, you know the majority of that food is made up of sugar. You will be surprised that what it says on the front of the box often doesn’t correspond. Go and have a look at your cereal box, you will be surprised what you learn.
Learn to recognise other hidden names for sugar on labels & aim for under 10g per 100g at a time. There are 4 grams of sugar in 1 teaspoon(tsp) and the WHO recommends no more than 6tsp per day per adult.
- Upgrade your snack cupboard, with a fruit bowl in reach
Clear out your cupboards of all the processed snacks and replace with dried fruits, nuts, dates, oat cakes, honey and nut butters. Remember change is gradual!
Try chopping up some vegetables after your shop and leave them accessible in the front of the fridge next to a tub of hummus. Keep your fruit bowl somewhere in reach. It will encourage you to snack on it too. When kids say they are hungry between meals, give the option of some fruit.
My favourite tactic is ‘if you don’t want it you can’t really be hungry!’ You may have a lot of resistance at first but persevere. Tip: Remember to take some of your new healthier options in your bag, otherwise you may be tempted to bribe with chocolate when out! (We have all done it!)
- Commit to one family meal together a week
Decide on a time where you know you will all be able to sit around a table together and eat. This is without TV on or any other electronic devices. It is a time where you can sit and chat as a family, be fully present, listen and not talk over each other. An early Sunday dinner which you have cooked is sometimes a good option here. Associating food with family and enjoyment is a great habit when growing up.
The overall goal is to grow up having a healthy attitude to food and to understand where food comes from and how your body feels after you eat it. The aim is for whole food to become the norm. The more you begin to understand the link between what you eat and how you feel and how to build your immune system through food, the better you and your children’s relationship with food will become.