If dinnertime has become a battle, try these tips from Denby’s Hayley Baddiley to encourage your children to eat better.
One in five children in the UK consume 78% of their calories from ultra-processed foods, according to research from Imperial College London. Unhealthy eating habits such as these can lead to various health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. It’s also possible that picky eating could be a symptom of, and may worsen, some mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety (Healthline), so it’s important that your children maintain a positive relationship with their food.
As a parent, you’ll know all too well how fussy some children can be when it comes to mealtimes. It’s entirely normal for children to go through a phase of picky eating, and it’s usually nothing to worry about. Luckily, there are a few simple tricks you can try to get them to eat more of the good stuff.
Get children involved in the kitchen
Kids love being involved with grown-up tasks, so one of the best ways to encourage a healthy relationship with food is by asking them to help out in the kitchen. Allowing them to handle the ingredients at each stage of cooking a meal helps them become more familiar with the food they’re eating, and is a great way to reduce feelings of anxiety at mealtimes.
There are a whole range of different tasks for your children to do, no matter their age. Little ones can help wash vegetables and measure out ingredients, while older children can help with chopping, peeling, and stirring. Just choose child-friendly recipes and consider making dishes they can put together themselves. For example, you could create your own pizzas or fajitas, and your children can choose whatever toppings of fillings they want.
Grow your own produce
If you’ve got the outdoor space, why not grow your own fruits and vegetables? Not only is this a fun way to teach your family about where their food comes from, but your little ones are also more likely to eat the food if they’ve grown it themselves. By the time a new ingredient is ready to plate up, your child will already be familiar with the shape and smell – all that will remain is to taste it!
If this will be your first time gardening, then it’s best to start with something small and simple, such as a few lettuces or a tomato plant. But, as you practise and your children become more confident trying new things, you can start to expand your garden to even more varieties of fruit and vegetables. Try growing courgettes, carrots, potatoes or strawberries, depending on what your children like to eat, and what you’d like to encourage them to try.
Make mealtimes fun
Turning mealtimes into a game is another great way to encourage your children to have a healthy relationship with food. Consider creating a rewards chart and give everyone a star for each fruit or vegetable they eat. Why not add an extra element of competition by offering a prize to whoever has the most stars by the end of
Making mealtimes more of an occasion can also help reduce stress and encourage your little ones to eat better. Prepare healthy snacks for a family picnic or serve up a tasty summer salad outdoors. You could also host weekly themed nights, complete with decorations and a menu to match. This is a great way to encourage children to try something new, while also making it a fun experience for the whole family.
Get creative with presentation
Sometimes, all it takes it a little creativity to get your little ones to eat their meals, so it’s worth taking some extra time to present their dishes nicely. For example, experimenting with colour and choosing a vibrant array of vegetables served on matching tableware is a great way to make your dishes look more appetising. Add an extra touch of artistic flair by making fun faces out of the ingredients.
You could also encourage children to become more independent when it comes to mealtimes. By plating up each element in serving bowls and urging everyone to help themselves, you can ease the pressure of trying new things. Giving your children their own set of tableware can also help them feel more independent at mealtimes, and they’ll be more likely to engage with the food you serve up.
Hide your fruit and veg
In some cases, it’s the taste and texture of vegetables that can put your little ones off eating them. So, one of the easiest ways to get your children to eat their vegetables is when they don’t know they’re there at all! This is a great way to up your family’s vitamin intake, especially if the children haven’t been swayed by your previous tactics.
Hide vegetables in pasta sauces, pies, and tarts. Disguise puréed carrots in some mashed potato. Make rice from cauliflower. Or use a spiraliser to create pasta from carrots or courgette. If you mix it in with a small portion of normal rice or pasta, your little ones might never know the difference.
Fussy eating in children is very common, but by trying these tips and tricks, you can encourage them to develop a healthier relationship with food, and they’re much more likely to keep up these positive habits as they get older.
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