Tips on Getting Children to Eat Their 5 a Day

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

“We are what we eat” ג€“ how times do we hear that these days? And it applies to our children as well. Without going to fanatical extremes, it is certainly noticeable that general health, mood and behaviour, our ability to concentrate, as well as our weight are all affected by the food we eat ג€“ the fuel for our bodies. For children this is doubly important as their bodies and brains are still growing for many years to come.

Primarily it’s all about balance. There is no Eat and Don’t Eat list, just a need to educate children about the different food groups, and to help them to make the right choices for themselves. That is not to say there won’t be fads and phobias. I had my share of this when my three year-old would only eat things that were yellow. Why and how did he come to this decision is a mystery to me thirty-five years later! But even with a colour restriction, it was just possible to balance the food groups.

Your children need to understand that there are (for simplicity) five groups:

1. Vegetables and fruit (the more colourful, the merrier)
2. Pulses and beans, meat and poultry, fish (fish, fish), eggs and nuts
3. Dairy or alternative ג€“ milk, cheese and yoghurt
4. Pasta, rice, cereals, potatoes, bread and cakes (low sugar banana loaf, etc)
5. Other food and drinks, high in sugar or fats

After an expedition to the shops, play a game with your children by letting them sort items (carefully) into groups on the kitchen table. Stars can be awarded for success and their understanding reinforced. Children need to be aware that every day they should eat from each of these groups (and not just their favourite) so that their muscles and bones can grow, their brains can develop, and hair and teeth can look at their best.

Let’s look first at the Vegetable & Fruit group. Ask your children to count how many portions of fruit and vegetables they’ve eaten toady, explaining about portion size and how one pea is not enough to be one of the five! Again consider stars charts to promote their interest and success. Look for any vegetables hiding in cooked dishes, for example carrots and peas in Shepherd’s Pie. Pizzas can have faces made from slices of pepper, cherry tomatoes and cucumber eyes (always a fun kitchen game). Mashed potatoes can have other root vegetables mashed in, for example turnip and swede or indeed peas, chopped green beans or broccoli. This mixing can be done on each child’s preferences at the kitchen table before the meal starts.

My grandchildren’s favourite desert is Fruit Platter Faces ג€“ using sliced strawberries, grated apple, blueberries, small orange segments, halved grapes, in fact anything in season. The after-dinner competition is to use as many fruits (as they can eat afterwards!) to make faces or other shapes on a large, flat plate. Quick photos can be useful to show off to parents or anyone that can be persuaded to look.

For me (and I know it’s hard) sweets, chocolate, salty snacks and other nutrition-free foods, have to go. They belong in the fifth food group but have for decades been used as bribes and rewards, to the detriment of our children’s health. So shame on us ג€“ melted chocolate can be used for party snacks to cover strawberries or other fruit pieces in a fondue, seeds and nuts can be dry roasted for picnic nibbles (checking always for nut allergies), and drinks can be flavoured with fruit mashed-up in a blender, maybe frozen as ice cubes then added to water to each child’s taste.

Yes, the occasional ice cream isn’t the end of the world, but don’t keep any in the freezer ג€“ it’s loaded with fat and sugar, unless you can make it yourself and can eat it in moderation!

So de-clutter your kitchen cupboards of biscuits, crisps and diet drinks ג€“ and embrace the 21st Century Food Revolution. You’ll soon feel and see the benefits, and old habits will be forgotten within a few weeks. For sure there will be moans and groans but with logic on your side, your children will soon adapt.

Keep the star charts going with reward choices available at the end of the month ג€“ please not food or drink, but try outings to the trampoline park, the swimming pool, the skateboard track or a local cycle route with a picnic lunch.

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