Getting your children to eat well can be challenging. Kids are picky and tend to be quick to say no to new things. Many parents avoid the frustrating battle and then end up feeling guilty about their children's diets. But here's the thing: eating habits are learned behaviours. What children eat at home early in life will influence their choices for the rest of thier lives!
It's a tricky situation. So we turned to health promotion expert and founder of Rainbow Plate, Janet Nezon, who has a ton of experience and awesome advice on how to making eating healthy fun and exciting for children. We've broken it down into six common problems parents face when it comes to kids and nutrition and how to deal with them.
Problem #1: My kids just don't understand the importance of eating healthy!
Instead of focusing on how healthy the food is, shift the focus to creating an environment that is open-ended, fun and pressure-free. Incorporate a rainbow of colourful fresh fruits and vegetables and challenge your children to use their senses to explore and create with them.
"The best way to get kids excited about healthy food is, believe it or not, to not focus on how healthy it is"
Problem #2: My child refuses to try new foods!
When a child refuses to try a new food, it might be because of their preconcieved idea or past experiences. A child may make negative associations with a food if they have been pushed to eat it or tried it in the past and didn't enjoy the way it tasted. Children will pick up on your most subtle cues and pressure (even if it is coming from a place of good intentions and love). So take the pressure out of the equation.
"We don't push kids to eat anything. In fact, we don't even focus on whether or not they like any of the foods we bring. We shine a spotlight on the inherent beauty and wonder of real foods and make healthy eating irresistible."
In her workshops, Janet suggests to children that they don't have to eat anything if they don't want to. She finds this takes the pressure off and makes it more likely that the child will try a new food. Their curiousity kicks in and they are focused on exploring and having fun with the experience.
Problem #3: Meal time has become so boring!
Engage kids by marvelling at the features of the food itself rather than focusing on nutrients and rules. Kids soak in this authentic adventure and forget about how they may not like that particular food. Instead, they usually want to try everything!
"We ask kids to use all their senses; to explore and describe what they see, feel, smell and taste. This approach breaks down barriers. Instead of food becoming fraught with complication, it becomes a simple, fascinating and enjoyable experience."
Problem #4: Mealtimes are becoming so stressful!
We love Janet's advice on this common problem:
"My best advice for parents is to relax! If you simply chill out and enjoy eating good food yourself, your kids will eventually follow your lead and do that too."
Some other tips from Janet on how parents can alleviate the stress from mealtime:
- Eat with your kids whenever possible
- Focus on making mealtimes a pleasant experience
- Do not harp about what anyone is or isn't eating
- Take advantage of vibrant colours, flavours and textures to make them more appealing
Problem #5: I tend to get flustered when my kids are in the kitchen.
Kids of any age can find something to do in the kitchen. Make it fun by incorporating lots of colourful, kid-friendly tools to make kitchen tasks easy and fun. Janet recommends finding a task that is appropriate for your child's interest, skill level and developmental stage. Here are some ideas:
- Tearing the lettuce
- Breaking broccoli or cauliflower into florets
- Stirring a bowl full of ingredients to mix
- Scrubbing vegetables
- Setting the table
Having the kids involved does mean that things can get a bit messy, but their enthusiasm is definitely worth it. Kids of all ages love to eat what they have helped prepare.
Problem #6: I'm having trouble breaking some of my kids bad eating habits!
When your kids get stuck on some not-so-good eating habits (especially sugar), it is difficult to break the cycle. Janet suggests starting small.
"Just start where you're at, and gradually move your family along to where you'd like to be. Dramatic and sudden change can be overwhelming for anyone."
Janet Nezon is the Founder of Rainbow Plate - a fresh approach to food and food education. Rainbow Plate makes healthy eating simple and fun. Their mission is to inspire kids and adults to cultivate a lifelong happy, healthy relationship with real food by providing innovative hands-on, educational programs to kids and the adults who influence them. You can learn more about Rainbow Plate on their website or follow along with them on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
Photos by Catherine Farquarson, Documentographer.