Why is healthy eating for kids so challenging?
Any parent would probably agree that getting healthy, nutritional food into the little ones is one of the biggest challenges of parenthood. No matter what walk of life you are from, if you have children, getting them to eat healthily is one of the many headaches of parenthood.
We are in an age of cheap, mass-produced meals which sadly are full of sugar and salts, all contributing to obesity and other health problems. Even worse, kids can get addicted to these bulky and nasty foods, making it even harder for them to enjoy real, healthy and nutritious meals.
Figures revealed by Vitabiotics’ Wellteen unveil some even more disturbing truths; with more than half of UK parents frequently rowing with their children at mealtimes. One in 5 parents nationwide has admitted they feel to have ‘lost control’ of their sons or daughters by the time they reach the age of 13, with some parents even finding illicit junk food wrappers hidden in their bedrooms.
The study also revealed that 39 per cent of parents don’t always know who their child is hanging around with and the company they are keeping – which makes losing control of their diet even more likely.
Persistent, but not pushy
Parents who find themselves obligating their children to eat, either by telling them they can’t leave the table or by blackmailing them with “conditions”, generally make the problem worse. This level of pushing or forcing can lead the child to associate food with negative emotions and even resentment, making it ultimately even harder for them to want to eat a meal.
A spokesman for Wellteen said: “Teens are among those with the worst diets of any group, according to government figures. That might be because they are rebelling from their parents and testing out their newfound independence, alongside the pressures of a hectic schedule of studies, sport and socialising. Good nutrition is vital for growing brains and bodies.”
With almost 40 per cent of parents believing that their children eat more junk food such as cake, chocolate and crisps than they did when they were at the same age, the question is raised as to whether or not things are getting worse.
For us, we are plant based vegans and our children eat a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit. At their youngest ages of one to two years old they would try almost everything we gave them, however as they are getting older and are now ages three and six years we notice they are become fussier and developing a preference for certain foods as well as a dislike. Those carrots they once adored are now pushed to the side of their plate and refused.
Whilst we try to encourage them to try these foods at each meal time by reiterating how taste buds changed and they may like them one day, I think it’s best to try and give a colourful variety of healthy foods each day on the plate. We concentrate on the items they will eat to ensure they get nutritious food and the arguments at dinner times are lessened.
Whilst this is easy to say with young children, I can only imagine how much more of a challenge it will become with teenagers!
Make healthy eating exciting
We try to make the healthy food exciting for the kids. We get an Abel and Cole organic vegetable box delivery every week which we keep as a surprise so we have no idea what will arrive. The kids love seeing what we have each week.
In our garden we have fruit trees and vegetable patches so the children can help to grow their own healthy food. There's nothing like encouraging a child to eat healthier by letting them grow their own fruits and vegetables. It works a treat!
We talk about the benefits of healthy food and the contents of some of the foods they eat and how it helps their bodies. They know to associate their healthy foods with being strong, fit and healthy and they want to eat them for this reason.
By making healthier versions of unhealthy treats such as milkshakes and sweet snacks, our kids don't feel like they're missing out. Rather than buying a sugar filled milkshake from the store or a sugary milkshake powder, we will make our own in seconds using a Nutri Ninja and fresh bananas, milk and raw cacao powder. We snack on dried fruit and sugar-free oat/fruit bars. We also make our own bliss balls and sometimes treat ourselves to healthier snacks from Graze or similar.
Here are some great healthy recipe examples:
Setting an example
We all love tucking into a pizza every now and then, and perhaps the odd dessert, but parental mindfulness goes a long way here. It’s no surprise that kids tend to model their eating habits of their parents. If you’re eating vegetables, fruits and whole grains in abundance without a fuss or reaction, it’s more than likely that your kids will follow suit.
I believe it’s just as important to share knowledge with children to let them know why these foods are better for the body, to bring them up knowing exactly why it’s important to mostly eat plant based foods and severely limit the junk.
Letting the kids see you actually enjoy good food is also a known method, as they will trust your judgement to an extent. Let them see you happy to have vegetables and grains at dinner. Getting creative in the kitchen and cooking various dishes out of the same ingredients will also help inspire and encourage the kids to enjoy better food.
In fact, getting the kids to help prepare the food is also a great way to encourage them to eat healthier, not matter what age they are. If you have outdoor space, try growing your own vegetables and fruit whilst making it a family activity. They will be proud to grow their own food from seed to plant and this will encourage them to eat it.
It’s simple, just not easy
Remember the solution when it comes to your kids’ healthier diets is simple (in the respect that it’s straightforward) but it’s by no means easy to maintain day after day. Try to build habits that you can keep day after day, week after week, and you’ll soon see longer-lasting changes. By starting them on a healthy path from a young age I believe you’ll help them to develop a taste and passion for the right foods to see them through their teenage and adult years. Here’s hoping!