Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Routine eating for kids

Children – right into even late teen years – are growing and developing. We send our kids to school for academic training, but education about food has to come from home. They need a solid basis of sound nutrition in order to provide energy for all that is going on in their bodies, and the good eating habits they develop now will serve them well in the years ahead.

Children learn by example – they will eat fruit and vegetables and try new foods, as long as they see you do. You are their role model, and younger children especially really want to be just like you. If you can’t stand to eat anything green, you are going to have a problem ‘faking’ enjoyment of vegetables. The first one to train in this case is yourself! Carrots make a good starting veg since they are naturally sweet and crunchy. Most children seem to enjoy peas and sweetcorn, too; and it’s not a giant-leap to progress from peas to beans and pulses. Try cooked chickpeas as a nibble snack.

Sometimes it may seem easier to give them take-aways, like burgers or pizza, just to save fights and resistance, but you will not be doing them or yourself any favours. Nearly all processed foods (especially take-aways) are overloaded with saturated fats, sodium and sugar which are unhealthy, and though you may think that this can be overcome at a later stage why set up bad eating habits in the first place?

The closer foods are to their natural state the more nutritious they are. Home prepared meals will provide more in the way of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients than any restaurant meal or take-away.

Routine is important for healthy eating. Children thrive on routine because it gives them a sense of security, so set regular meal and snack times, and have a specific eating space that the whole family uses. Always start with breakfast; gradually replace sugary cereals with high fibre cereals served with fresh fruit (e.g. chopped banana, pureed apple, strawberries) and/or yoghurt for natural sweetness, or opt for toasted whole grain bread with peanut butter. Don’t let the gap between meals stretch too long. A hungry child will get scratchy and irritable very quickly so a snack may be in order – provided there is at least an hour to go before the next scheduled meal.

Don’t stress about the amount of food your child eats – forcing him to finish everything on his plate is bad for everyone’s digestion; some days he may devour everything you put on his plate - and then ask for more! When he doesn’t eat enough (by your standards) don’t bribe (sweeties or ice cream if he eats) or threaten (no TV), just accept that he has had as much as he wants. Don’t be tempted to offer an alternative food, either. He’ll eat when he’s hungry.

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