As a parent, one of your hardest struggles might be convincing your children to eat healthier. Whether that translates as creatively disguising vegetables in dishes, bartering at the dinner table or regular fights, it can be an exhausting task.
According to the 2021 "State of Nutrition in SA" report produced by Tiger Brands’ Eat Well Live Well Institute, 38% of parents say their children do not have a good understanding of what foods are healthy or unhealthy.
“A concerted effort by parents, schools, government, food brands and public figures needs to be made to encourage good nutrition among our children, so that they can thrive and become the best possible version of themselves,” reads the report.
“And it all begins at home, by taking small daily steps where we can afford to, talking to our children about the real impact of what and how we eat, and allowing them that treat once in a while.”
Tirsa Bezuidenhout, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in SA (Adsa), shares five tips for parents to teach their children about making healthier food choices:
1. STOCK UP ON THE GOOD STUFF
Children will eat what’s available to them. For this reason, try stocking up on fresh, high-fibre, wholegrain, natural and minimally processed foods.
A good idea is to place a fruit bowl where your children can reach it and to keep prepared snacks such as cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, celery sticks and homemade sauces and dips at your children’s eye level in the fridge.
“Try replacing sugar-sweetened drinks, sweets, confectionery and other treats with chopped fruit, yoghurt, raw nuts, bite-size vegetables, lean protein and whole grains,” says Bezuidenhout.
2. BE A SOURCE OF INFORMATION
Children won’t be convinced that they should eat something just because it’s healthy. But you can start teaching them to care about what they eat by sharing information with them, including where their food comes from, what nutrients their food contains and how this will help them grow.
“Try researching the nutritional value and interesting facts about at least one food offered per meal and share the information while preparing meals or during mealtimes,” says Bezuidenhout.
3. MAKE FOOD APPEALING
Children are more likely to eat foods which are visually appealing. You can try combining different colours and using cookie cutters to make different shapes. Another idea is to combine flavours they enjoy with healthy foods.
“Try finding out which foods and flavours your child enjoys and use this as the starting point to create the rest of the meal,” says Bezuidenhout.
4. GET THEM INVOLVED IN THE KITCHEN
When you have time to prepare meals from scratch, try encouraging your children to get involved in food preparation by giving them age-appropriate tasks to do.
This might help them develop an interest in food, will give them an opportunity to taste foods in different forms — from raw to cooked, steamed or even grilled — and maybe even make them more open to trying new foods.
“Try involving children in rinsing, mixing, kneading, stirring, tearing, peeling or chopping (when appropriate) food when preparing meals,” says Bezuidenhout.
5. LET THEM BUILD THEIR OWN MEALS
Meals that comprise a variety of foods from different food groups are far more nutritious than single-food meals such as meat or pasta dishes, chips, nuts, fruit or yoghurt.
“Try encourage children to create a meal for the family by choosing one food from each food group type to build a wholesome recipe. Write this recipe in a notebook to create a family recipe book based on healthy recipes your children love,” says Bezuidenhout.