Many children in the 21st century western world are facing diet related illness in their future – obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease. It is in our homes and around our dinner tables that we can make a difference to their wellbeing.
The best way, if you can, to start your child on healthy eating is first in utero to eat the best you can. Clean eating means eating food that has vitamin H (Homemade) and vitamin L (Love) in it (these ‘vitamins’ are both what IIN teach us and I think they are a beautiful concept). Unprocessed food made from simple ingredients in your own kitchen are the best start you can give anyone. Rather than buying packet foods from supermarkets it’s much better to load up on single ingredient food and combine them through cooking yourself.
Breastfeeding is the most biologically normal way to nourish your child if you can. For help with breastfeeding ensure you contact La Leche League or other breastfeeding support group. Athough I am a big supporter of breastfeeding I am not qualified as a breastfeeding counsellor. Therefore I always advise mums-to-be or new mothers to seek the help of a qualified infant lactation consultant if required. Again, your own diet is important when you are breastfeeding. Maximise on eating vegetables and fruit, high quality protein and fats (not vegetable oils!). Learn some simple dishes that are a) easy to make when you feel tired and b) are easy to freeze into portions for another day. A good motto is cook once, eat twice (although that comes with the caveat of ensuring you follow health and safety guidance on storage). See my recipe section for some great meal ideas.
When your children are older keep introducing them to new, healthier foods. Here are some tips on how to do this.
1. If they are used to processed foods then rather than take away think about adding to the plate with more vegetables but in tiny portions. Remember children have smaller bodies and that includes their stomachs.
2. Learn to make their favourites in a homemade way and involve your children in cooking, even from an early age (making sure it is safe to do so). E.g. macaroni cheese is so easy to make rather than a packaged version. You can add tomatoes, steamed leafy greens and herbs such as fresh basil alongside. Children can easily wash fruit and veg and with supervision can learn to chop things for stir fries for example.
3. Sit down to eat at the table. Studies show that families that eat together tend to have healthier lifestyle and nutrition habits. Aim for at least one meal a day together. It’s good to have a variety of side dishes or seasonings that children can add e.g. some grated carrot, some pumpkin seeds or fresh parsley from a kitchen windowledge herb pot.
4. I always use the motto try it once (making certain this is not taken outside the home to cigarettes or alcohol of course). With my daughter if she really doesn’t like something I let her make that choice but I ask her to try it first. I then may introduce it at another time too. She used to hate mushrooms but will now eat a few now and again. She’s not keen on kale but I will add it to a smoothie.
5. It is important with children to remember that their stomachs are smaller than an adults so a little portion can go a long way. Don’t force them to eat a large portion. Rather give them smaller bowls or plates and allow them to go back for seconds. If they tend to need more sweet or snack options between meals then encourage them to fill up at meals on main dishes. This is better for overall and dental health.