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Tips to introduce good eating habits to your family

The majority of kids in developed countries, currently consume nearly 90% of their daily calories from animal products and processed foods making it very difficult to consume enough fruits and vegetables for optimal health. Eating five serves of different colour vegetables daily can help combat against chronic diseases which begin in childhood, though we may not see their effects until later in life. By the time your child has finished primary school, the foundation may already be in place for obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

So what can we do about it today ...

1) Be a Role Model

More often than not, kids don’t do as we say, they do as we do. So are you getting at least five serves of vegetable a day ? Yes, at least five - some ways to achieve this are :

  • Snack on vegetable sticks and dips, instead of the biscuit for your afternoon snack.

  • Add a vegetable soup to dinner in winter or for the after school snack.

  • In summer add a salad to your dinner and lunch.

  • Have a yummy green smoothie, instead of the second coffee or tea.

  • Ensure there are at least two serves of vegetables at dinner.

2) Eat family dinners at the dining table

Set the habit of eating at the table, ideally as a family when possible when your kids are young. You will never regret this habit. As they grow up it will be the norm. Studies have shown that eating together has positive social, developmental, and behavioural benefits and tend to give children a sense of security and togetherness. Also sitting down to eat your meal generally results in less snacking afterwards. I personally find dinner a time to connect with my kids, chat about what has happened in their day. We often play a game where you have to say the best thing and the worst thing that happened in the day, which can be very insightful as they grow up. So if you haven't yet – turn off the TV, phones and devices and sit down and enjoy your dinner.

3) Make rules about unhealthy snacks and drinks

Saying no to unhealthy snacks and drinks may backfire on you and result in your child craving them. So it’s important to teach your child healthy habits and set rules about snacks - for example restricting package snacks to only one day, or every second day or weekly. Also remember if it isn’t in the house, they (and you) can’t eat it or drink it.

4) Don’t tell your child they only get dessert if they eat their vegetables.

This can teach kids to hate vegetables by making vegetables seem like a punishment and dessert seem like a reward. If you do enjoy a dessert, let it just be a part of the whole experience, and not made into a big deal. It also helps to not serve dessert every day. If you have desserts a couple times per week (or less), they won’t become habit forming.

5) Make vegetables more appealing

Kids are much more likely to eat vegetables and fruits when they look appealing, try some of the following ways:

· Cut vegetables into fun and appealing shapes, like stars.

· Package or serve vegetables with their favourite cartoon character, or on a special character plate.

· Call vegetables a fun name, for instance referring to broccoli as trees.

· Serve vegetables with sauces and dips e.g. streamed cauliflower with cheese.

· Cook vegetables in different ways – roasted cauliflower steaks, grilled asparagus with lemon, spinach blended into smoothies or in wraps.

· When cooking something new, call it a crazy name. As a child I remember one dinner my dad called ‘The Cement Mixer dinner’ (we had been mixing cement before dinner). It was where I mixed the meat and vegetables together with butter. I remember trying on my youngest when she was 9 years old when she was eating something she didn't like the look of and it worked … so don't be afraid to get creative and have fun with it all.

6) Get Kids Involved

Kids love to eat foods they prepare themselves. Obviously start off with age appropriate tasks, e.g. fetching and washing the vegetables, peeling to chopping vegetables. When my kids were smaller, they loved chopping the herbs with a rocking vegetable chopper knife which is really safe to use. Use can also use the preparation time to teach your child about where food comes from and the benefits of eating whole foods.

7) Be Patient and have fun with it

It takes time to build new habits. On average, it takes 8-15 tastes of a new food to develop an affinity for it. So be patient and have fun with it.

Author: Marie Holland, Clinical Nutritionist. Being a mum of three, she has seen first-hand what effects small changes to our diet can make to our children's behaviour and health. She can provide you with evidence-based nutritional information and support which is tailored to your unique lifestyle, goals and circumstances, along with making it simple and sensible.Find out more about her work HERE.

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