Dietitian and member of the Yoghurt Advisory Panel Monique Piderit gives tried and tested tips on how to get your kids to eat well, try new foods, and enjoy a varied, wholesome diet.
Instead of a relaxing family occasion, meal times can become war times between parents and picky eaters. “Stressed out parents often tell me that they feel guilty about their children's diets; they know how important it is to feed their kids healthy foods, but they're just not sure how to convince them to eat it,” says Piderit.
“Food represents much more than vitamins and minerals,” she says. “In addition to nourishment, at times it can be about fun, comfort, celebration, learning opportunities and much more. Food doesn’t have to be a struggle.”
The nutrition status of South African kids is poor, scary even - 14 percent of children aged six to 14 years are overweight or obese; they’re not eating enough fruit and vegetables; and less than half of our children are taking part in some form of sport or recreational activity.
“Good nutrition is linked to better school performance and well-being, so by choosing the right food for them you’re giving them the right nutrition to get ahead – you’ve got the power!” says Piderit. Here are her top five tips to getting kids to eat well, and easing the mealtime battles.
Shop and cook together
Kid’s need some control over what goes into their bodies. Let them join you on the grocery trip and let them have some say in the pantry and fridge staples, with some limits of course. There’s a sense of responsibility and ownership that comes with choosing their favourite fruit and vegetables.
Although children spending time in the sweets aisle, choose to spend more time visiting the fruit, vegetable and dairy aisles with interesting and engaging conversations around the types of food and products found there.
Give them what they like
There’s no point in forcing a child to eat something they don’t want to; it’ll only create anxiety for both of you. Yes variety is important, but don’t put the focus on foods they don’t enjoy. If the only vegetable your kid will eat is cauliflower – great! Give it to them, while slowly introducing new tastes and textures.
Colour and placement
We eat with our eyes after all, so mix it up. Presentation, it seems, is really important to kids. Food can be arranged into shapes, stacked into towers, or cut up with cookie cutters. For added interest and texture, use pieces of their favourite fruit and nuts to draw a smiley face on a bowl of yoghurt; other popular shapes include ‘ants on a log’ (apple slices or carrot sticks with peanut butter and raisins) and ‘soldiers’ (strips of toast dipped into soft-boiled eggs).
Meals are always more fun for kids when there’s dipping involved, and it can make dry foods moist and easier to eat for younger children. A dip can give new foods a familiar flavour and might help it go down easier on the first introduction.
The dip can be just about anything: cottage cheese, mashed beans or avocados, or a touch of sweet chili sauce mixed with some mayonnaise. Yoghurt makes a great dip - did you know that children who eat yoghurt are also more likely to make better nutritional choices? It’s a smart snack choice.
Many parents feel guilty when they let their kids indulge, but let’s face it, kids love treats. As adults we don’t eat a perfect diet 100 percent of the time, so there’s no reason to expect your kids to. Forbidding certain foods just makes them more tempting, and more likely to binge at the next birthday party. To ease your conscience, offer treats with some nutritional value. Fruit like strawberries dusted with cocoa powder or cinnamon sprinkled over orange wedges is also a lovely treat.