healthy eating for kids

Dad, David Inglis gives his tips on encouraging healthy eating with your children

What comes to mind when you hear the term "healthy eating"? I would put money on it not being a particularly positive one. Boring salads, bland fish and veg, no butter, few carbs and generally no flavour. Am I close?

Most of us probably think of healthy eating in terms of something you do when you want to lose some weight. It means discipline, sacrifice and general misery. Things most people want to avoid in their day to day lives.

But why should we try and change that view before our children take it as their own too?

The simplest answer is: we are what we eat. This rule applies to us all. Everyone is constantly growing - maybe not in the same way, but we all are. In order for our bodies to grow in the best way possible, they need the correct building blocks. Without those building blocks, in the correct quantities, our bodies struggle to thrive and repair themselves. This can lead to premature ageing, illness, mental and emotional problems and general poor health.

So why am I writing this article for dadzclub? Simple. Because in my view, one of the single most important things you can do for your child is feed them as well as you possibly can.

In the most basic of ways, this starts right from the moment your child is born. You make a choice over how you feed your new baby. Breast or bottle. We all know the saying "breast is best" and it's well known for a reason. A mother's milk contains everything the baby needs to grow into a healthy toddler. Proteins, sugars, fats, minerals and everything else that makes up that amazing milk. Without the right balance, your baby will fail to thrive, whether that be in terms of physical growth or mental development. None of us want that do we?

Of course, not all of us are lucky enough to be able to have our babies fed by the breast. My daughter certainly wasn't. Through bad timing and very poor health, my wife was unable to feed our daughter herself. We were both distraught when we found this out because we knew how good the milk was for mum and baby and felt we had failed her by not being able to feed her. So we did the next best thing: we tried to find the best possible formula we could for her. To cut a long story short she ended up on milk protein allergy formula, but even then we researched the best possible one to give her. Pretty much all formulas are made to government guidelines so they are all very similar and all give the baby everything it needs, but reading up on them and making an informed choice made us feel we were ensuring she got the best.

In saying all that, regardless of whether or not your baby is getting breast or bottle fed, it'll be getting all it needs in one form or another. So far so good. But what happens when it's your turn to choose what your baby eats? It's at this point that you start to build a relationship between your child and food. If you can build a good foundation now, it should (there are always exceptions) make things much easier in the years to come.

Here are some of my tips on how to build a good foundation:

  • Experiment: Try as many different things as possible. Read books on child nutrition, ask your local health visitor, find out what your baby needs and try and find as many ways as possible to give them what they need. Your child needs the same things we do, but in very different quantities, so make sure whatever advice you take is aimed at children, not adults.
  • Have fun: If you can make food fun, or at least enjoyable, you’re winning half the battle.
  • Don’t say no (or at least not all the time): If you continually deny your child what it thinks it wants, it’ll just crave them even more and may develop an over the top reaction when it gets its hands on such an item. My wife had a friend just like this – none of the mums wanted her at any of the kids parties because she’d see a bowl of sweets or cakes and go absolutely mental. Then freak out on the sugar that was otherwise absent from her daily diet. A little bit of the things they want every now and then is good for them.
  • Educate: Let your child know that things are good for them. If you can get them thinking that eating things that are good for them is going to make them grow up strong/pretty (delete as appropriate) then it’ll make it less of a battle. Think Jolly Green Giant ad. Or in my wife’s case, thinking that eating her crusts would make her hair go curly, “like Kylies”. Thankfully it did not.
  • Involve your children: This goes hand in hand with point 2. If you present your kids every meal time with a dish that seems to have appeared from nowhere (minus some smoke and swearing from the kitchen), they’re not going to appreciate what went into making the meal, both in terms of ingredients and effort. Involving them from an early age will introduce them to more than just the end product and will again help to strengthen the positive relationship with food. You never know, you might even awaken a talent for cooking in them. Let’s put it this way, I bet Jamie Oliver’s parents aren’t doing too badly.
  • Lead by example: This applies to most areas of parenting, healthy eating included. If you’re telling your child that eating chips every night is bad for them, then you come home each night with a chip butty, they’re going to be confused (and a little jealous). On the other hand if they see you enjoying the same nutritious and tasty food as they are eating, they won’t feel so cheated.

As well as keeping your kids healthy and knowing that you’re giving them all the nutrition and understanding they need to grow into healthy adults, you may notice some other benefits too. Your kids won’t have so many mood swings, thanks to a more stable blood sugar level and constant supply of energy. There’s less chance they’ll turn into fussy eaters, meaning you can take them anywhere and know there won’t be any chants of “chicken nuggets, chicken nuggets”. And last but certainly not least, you might notice your own waistline shrinking!

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