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Healthy eating sets families up for life

Toddler eating a strawberry
Credit: iStock.com/myella

Toddlers and fussy eating can be a thorn in a parent’s side, but we can all breathe easy that often battles over eating anything green or a determination to live on breakfast cereal is often short-lived.

We all know that providing our children with good food and teaching them healthy eating habits from the beginning can set them up for a lifetime of health benefits.

From fussy eaters and family dinner routines to weekly menu ruts, nutritionist and CEO of Nourished Beginnings Katie Harding provides parents and early childhood services with the support and knowledge they need to keep little tummies happy and healthy.

“Our children are our future and it is our aim to assist child care centres and families in providing them with the food education and nourishment that their children require to grow and develop into healthy adults with strong food values and a healthy relationship with food for life,” she says.

As a parent, you want your child to be healthy and happy and when they only want to eat jam sandwiches, you worry they aren’t getting the nutrients they need for optimal growth and development.
Nutritionist Katie Harding

Katie says there are many practical ways for families to incorporate healthy eating into their daily routines. 

She says encouraging children to enjoy healthy foods comes down to how you eat as a family and the values you have around food.

“How you role model eating habits as a family, plays a crucial role in setting children up with lifelong healthy eating habits.”

Katie suggests five ways to encourage your children to enjoy healthy foods:

  1. Sit down as a family and enjoy mealtimes together. Even if this is just on the weekends when you have more time, it is important to create a joyful, relaxed environment around mealtimes. 
  2. Deconstruct meals to allow more choice. Children love to be independent and allowing them some choice when it comes to their meals encourages them to express this independence in a constructive way.
  3. Get them cooking! I know as a mum myself this often seems like more mess than it’s worth but getting your children into the kitchen so that they can see love and effort that goes into making their meals will contribute to their relationship with food later in life.
  4. Don’t offer ‘treat food’ as a reward. Offering things like lollies and chocolate as a reward for good behaviour teachers children to associate unhealthy foods with positive behaviour. Instead for example, offer a sticker or a stamp. Children love these just as much!
  5. Role model good eating habits. This not only relates to the food you eat but also the way you talk about food and the example you are setting with regards to body image. 

Katie says managing fussy eaters is often a challenge for parents.

“Managing fussy eaters is one of the biggest frustrations of the families and centres I work with,” Katie says.

“As a parent, you want your child to be healthy and happy and when they only want to eat jam sandwiches, you worry they aren’t getting the nutrients they need for optimal growth and development.”

Katie’s tips to encourage fussy eaters include:

  • Prepare for success. Have your meals planned ahead of time to reduce a stressful environment around mealtimes (less stress for you and less stress for your children).
  • Always offer foods that the family are having first. Continue to offer a variety of foods in a stress free environment. If they don’t eat it, move on without making a fuss and try again at the next mealtime.
  • As mentioned above, deconstruct meals to allow children more choice and independence. For example, let’s say you’ve made a curry. There are peas in the curry and your child doesn’t like peas. Even though you’ve removed the peas from their dish, they still won’t eat it. By deconstructing the curry with individual bowls of rice, curry sauce, yoghurt and a few separate vegetables served in the middle of the table allows your child to assert that independence. Over time they will begin to make healthy choices for themselves.
  • Try preparing / cooking foods in different ways. For example, offer broccoli raw, steamed, finely chopped or fully cooked. Fussy eating can often be a sensory issue and they may just prefer it cooked a particular way.

As a nutritionist working with adults, Katie says often the most difficult habit to encourage change is diet.

“Our food beliefs are ingrained from an early age and we don’t like to be told what we can and can’t eat,” she says.

“This is why it is so important to set our children up with healthy food habits from a young age.

“The health benefits to be gained from having a healthy relationship with food are vast.

“Some benefits include improved moods and more energy to enjoy the things we love; reduced risk of developing diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and depression; improved sleep; weight control; strong, healthy bones  and less chance of developing osteoporosis later in life; and self-confidence from a positive body image mindset.

“The key to success in healthy eating is making small changes for big impact. If you jump right in wanting to change everything at once, you are much less likely to succeed.

“And remember, food should be a joyful experience to share with family and friends, so have fun with it.”

Katie says in her work with early learning centres there’s a big emphasis on nutrition.

“Our focus on child care services comes from my own experience working in the industry as a child care cook as well as being a mum of two,” Katie says.

“Centres want to provide healthy food and we give them the education and tools they need to succeed. With many children consuming up to 80% of their nutritional requirements from child care services, it has never been so important for centres to be providing our children with nourishing whole foods.“

Banana Berry Ice Cream

Ingredients

4 bananas

250g frozen berries

1/2 cup coconut cream

Method

  1. Peel the bananas and roughly chop. Place into a sealed container and place in the freezer overnight.
  2. Place the berries, frozen banana and a little coconut cream into a food processor and blend until soft and creamy, adding more coconut cream as needed.

Keep in a sealed container in the freezer for up to 1 week.

Remove from the freezer 30 minutes before serving or place into the food processor again to soften.