Healthy eating for children doesn’t have to be complicated. Nutritional requirements for children are like those of adults, children simply require different amounts of vitamins, minerals and nutrients to us. Focusing on a well-balanced diet based off the five food groups – breads and cereals, lean meat and alternatives, dairy and alternatives, fruits and vegetables will help optimise and fuel your little one’s growth and development. Getting your children involved in the kitchen is one great way to get them interested in healthy eating and trying new foods. Children choose foods for different reason than we do as adults. We may choose a food because we know and understand the health benefits, children on the other hand choose food based of its looks, taste, smell, how familiar it is or how easy it is to eat. Sharing family meals together is one on you can be a healthy role model for your children, demonstrate the benefits of eating well and encourage experimentation with new foods.
Eating a Rainbow
Fruits and vegetables come in five different colour varieties: red, green, orange, purple/blue and white. Each colour provides its own array of vitamins and minerals that are beneficial for health and growth. We’ve all heard the term ‘Eat a Rainbow’ a before which can be a little overwhelming if you are trying to achieve this at every meal, instead focus on providing an array of colours throughout the day. For example serving strawberries with breakfast or tomato at lunch, banana with morning tea or cauliflower at dinner, sweet potato or rockmelon at lunch, blueberries with afternoon tea or beetroot with dinner, avocado with breakfast or cucumber with morning tea. This will ensure your little one is receiving a range of different nutrients they require throughout the day.
Trying New Foods
Having trouble getting your little one to try something new?
New textures, smells and flavours can sometimes be daunting or overwhelming for young children. This may be the first time they have ever experienced something with this texture. When introducing new foods or colours to your child’s plate it can often take 10 or more times before they will think about trying something new.
Remove any pressure for your child to try something new at mealtime. They may already be out of their comfort zone with this new food they have been presented and pressure to try something new may be overwhelming and reduce the chances of them it. We know it can be frustrating when you have spent time preparing a food that your child refuses to eat. Why not try keeping the food aside and offering it again at the next meal or incorporating leftovers into a different dish the next day. Be patient and keep trying, multiple exposures to a new food is key. Try to offer one new food at a time alongside foods your child is already familiar with and experiment with offering it in a variety of ways. Try adding a dipping sauce, cutting the food in a different shape, offering it cooked or raw, baked or steamed, mashed, or sliced. You’re doing great and they will get there!
Benefits of Getting Children Involved in Mealtimes
Children are very impressionable little human beings. Teaching your child basic cooking skills from a young age means they will be more likely to make healthy food choices in the future. Involving children in food preparation helps build a skill for life and is a great opportunity for them to experiment and discover new foods, after all, children are more likely to try something new if they have been a part in creating it.
Spending quality time in the kitchen with your little one is also a great way to connect as a family. Although it may get a little messy at times, it is guaranteed to be a lot of fun. Get your child involved in the kitchen by having them help wash fruits and veggies, measure out ingredients and pour them into bowls, mix ingredients together, help read recipes, prepare salads, season foods with salt and pepper or sprinkle cheese onto a dish. Your little one may need assistance with these tasks at first but soon enough they will have mastered a number of skills.
It’s never too early to get your child involved in the kitchen.
Family Meal Times
You’ve put in all of the work to cook an amazing meal together, now it’s time to enjoy the food together as a family. Eating at the table as a family has so many benefits not only for your children but for the family as a whole. Positive family meals times promote a sense of belonging for you and your children and creates a happy and safe environment to share conversation, connect and for you to role model healthy eating. Eating together also helps set up values that your children will carry with them for life. Studies have shown that families who eat together are healthier, have better nutritional intake, are happier and feel more connected. Minimising distractions from technology such as the TV or iPad while at the table is important to help foster these healthy eating habits and tune in to our hunger and fullness ques.
Making family meal times a priority in your household doesn’t have to be something that happens over night. Start by incorporating one or two extra family meals a week and slowly increase from here. It is important to remember that eating together doesn’t have to involve an elaborate and complicated meal. Stick to simple dishes and focus the importance on being together as a family with minimal distractions at the table.
Focusing on eating a wide variety of coloured fruits and vegetables can provide you and your family with the best chance of meeting their vitamin and mineral requirements. Remember to remove the pressure from meal time. If your child doesn’t like a certain food right now keeping offering it to them in different ways. Try serving a food cooked, raw, with a dipping sauce or cut in a different shape. It can take multiple exposures for children to get used to new foods, flavours and textures.
Getting your child involved in food preparation and cooking in the kitchen is a great way to spend quality time together, allows them to experiment with new foods and teaches them skills they will carry with them for life. Both you and your little ones will benefit from sharing family meal times together as they encourage connection, conversation and a chance to role model healthy eating. Remember, it’s never too early to get your little one involved in family meal times.
Written by: Maddison Elliottsidebottom (Dietitian Student)
Reviewed: Emily Ross (Dietitian)