I’m delighted to have a guest post today from Dr Orlena Kerek, a paediatrician and mother of 4 young children (still small enough to fit in the bath together, just).
Orlena blogs about raising healthy happy children at snotty-noses.com. She has a special interest in helping children eat a healthy diet, and she’s giving us some great practical advice today. You can also sign up to her newsletter and get a free copy of 30 Tips to get your Kids to Eat and LOVE Vegetables which I can’t recommend enough!
“Yummy, thank you so much for my delicious plate of vegetable pasta,”says my 5 year old as he politely asks to be excused from the table and proceeds to put his plate into the dishwasher. Ha ha! If only! If you have young children and they’re anything like mine, meal times can be one of those stress points of the day. It’s not that they aren’t polite. They’re just tired and hungry and don’t really want to eat their vegetables. They like to pick out the bits they like, namely the pasta around here. Children are noisy, boisterous and like to do things their way. And that’s fine. As parents, we just have to learn to work around them.
So, if your toddler, who used to eat perfectly, is going through a phase when they refuse point blank to even touch a pea or carrot, despair not! There are ways to gently encourage your toddler back into healthy eating.
Firstly, look at the bigger picture. In the short run, it doesn’t really matter what they eat. Constipation aside, they aren’t going to come to any great harm if they spend a few days eating nothing but pasta and cake. My 1 year old son once went on chocolate hunger strike when we went to grandmother’s for Christmas. She assured me that the chocolate decorations were too high for him to reach. Hmm, that wasn’t the case and he happily helped himself and refused to eat anything else for 3 days. He lived to tell the tale and now at nearly 6 eats such dangerous monsters as lettuce, cabbage and broccoli.
The plan is to teach your little ones to develop healthy eating habits. Ultimately you do want them to be eating a healthy balanced diet and if they get used to healthy food from an early age they’ll just think of it as ‘food’. It will be what they are used to and what they’ll feed themselves and hopefully their children when they’re old enough to take care of themselves.
It’s getting the balance right that can be difficult.
My top tips are firstly, don’t shout or argue with them. The more you shout and scream, the more they’ll dig their heals in and refuse to eat the offending item. They will come to resent you, and food will become an issue for them. But once you’ve let go of the idea that they have to eat their vegetables all the time, you won’t need to feel that you have to shout.
Make food fun. Need I say more? I think Anne has covered that one for me.
Offer them a range of healthy things to eat. This works a treat and recently I managed to get my 3 year old to eat celery with this method. Yep, I’ll confess I was shocked (I’d only really put it out for me). He said he liked it, it was his favourite taste, it was just a bit chewy for him. I suspect he won’t be so keen next time, but it won’t be on his ‘off list’.
Getting the balance right between food children like and don’t like is also difficult. Sometimes they genuinely don’t like something. Sometimes they just think they don’t like it. My children claim not to like aubergine or courgette, except they eat it at least twice a week without any fuss. Allow them to not like some things. Ignore them when you know they’re being fickle. (I wouldn’t get a single meal past the committee if I actually listened to all those cries of ‘yuck, not pasta again’, but 5 minutes later, it’s clean plates all around).
Keeping a food diary is another great idea. Children often eat in fits and starts. It doesn’t really matter if they eat lots of vegetables in the morning and then carbohydrates in the afternoon. A food diary is a great way to see what they are actually eating and to highlight sneaky snacks that mean they aren’t hungry at dinner time.
And talking of snacks, snacking is fine as long as it’s not always cake and biscuits. Young children fine it really hard to go the long times in between meals that adults do. They have smaller stomachs that get full up more quickly. And emptied more quickly. So let them snack on healthy things and keep treats as treats.
Healthy eating can seem like a huge mountain to climb, especially when your 2 year old shakes their head and says “no, no, no”. But keep calm and with a realistic approach you’ll get there in the end.
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