Very few children aged between four and 13 eat the recommended intake of vegetables. While, ironically, this may just make most of us sigh with relief that we’re not the only ones having trouble, it does signify a big challenge and an opportunity for parents to shape their children’s habits early.
“For young children, diet is largely determined by their parents,” states the report. However, children take on greater responsibility for their own food choices as they grow older, It is, therefore, important to establish healthy eating patterns at a young age.” Here’s what the research suggests might help you to get your kids to eat better.
Make sure you give them a variety to choose from
Persistence: KEEP UP THE VARIETY
So your baby who’d eat spinach puree, lumps of lentils or even the dog’s dinner if he could has suddenly become a child reluctant to eat anything other than potato? Children develop a natural caution about food from about the age of two onwards.
It makes sense when you think about it in evolutionary terms, according to US Tufts University nutrition professor Dr Susan B. Roberts and pediatrician Dr. Melvin B. Heyman. In a hunter-gatherer society, it would be around age two that mum might have another child, and the two-year-old, with more freedom to wander from the cave and fossick for food, needed to be cautious. While a small amount of something poisonous would probably not kill you, a whole meal might.
Nibbling at so several times before making a whole meal of it would enable you to find out which wild foods were good to eat, while also minimizing the chance of poisoning
Encourage your kids to eat better
Even beyond the cautious toddler years, it’s all about encouraging
the child to try new types of food, without necessarily expecting them to finish it. “Don’t be too worried if the kids say “I don’t want any.” says healthy weight management expert Dr. Rick Kausman, author of If Not Dieting. Then What? encourage parents to be patient and not expect kids to eat (food or vegetable) the first few times. But keep the emphasis on variety, just calmly encourage them to try different foods and have a go.” A simple philosophy that applies beyond the dinner table.
Patience: KEEP YOUR COOL
While praise works for some children, some research suggests that bribing children to eat vegetables or other healthy items doesn’t work for example, saying one more snow pea and you get a biscuit makes it more likely they’ll end up with a negative attitude towards snow peas. US studies at Pennsylvania State University suggest it’s more effective to simply expose the child to various foods repeatedly, allowing them to make their own choices
Try putting a food lake broccoli on the table 15 times before you give up, say Roberts and Heyman. If it’s repeatedly rejected, treat it as no big deal.”By all means say, ‘okay, I eat it, but don’t use bribery, threats or active encouragement or you will encourage instinctive rejection”
For the same reason, it’s best to limit the times you use desirable food as a bribe in other areas of the child’s life, too (if you finish your homework, you get a Tim Tam’). “We’ve all used food as a reward for good behavior, but that puts too much focus on food,” says Kausman. “Have other rewards like playing a game together afterward, or building up points for a larger item like a new bike.
Consisteney: KNOW YOUR POWER
If Dad is hoeing into a meat pie and chips at the dinner table, it’s hard for a child to get excited about his portion of steamed vegetables. Think of it this way, suggest Roberts and Heyman: “Kids learn to love virtually anything that they see their parents or caregivers really enjoy, (from ants in some parts of Africa to raw fish in Japan and snails in France)
Try to eat as a family as often as possible, and let your child see you eating and enjoying the foods you want them to eat. Eat the vegetables, have second helpings of broccoli-it won’t do you any harm either. And be consistent – a yoyo dieter is likely to wreak havoc on their watchful child’s eating habits.
Read part 2 here.