+ Well Nourished | Healthy Eating Habits for Kids

The Well Nourished Child – One family, one meal

In today’s post, I am going to continue to further develop the two concepts I have already introduced for developing healthy eating habits for kids.  You now know my thoughts on the importance of sharing the dining experience and how getting children involved in some part of the gathering and/or preparation of a meal can positively impact on their willingness to try new foods.  These two points are so critical;  not only for the development of healthy eating habits now but also for creating  a connection to family, society and for a lifelong understanding of real food.  If you’ve missed these posts you can find them here.

Why different meals?
It has astounded me over the years, how many parents prepare more than one meal for their family.  No judgement is intended, though if you are doing this, know that you are contributing to the development of poor eating habits.  I believe, that there are several reasons why parents fall into the habit of catering especially for children.

The western food culture
Somewhere along the line, we have been taught that young children should be fed bland, tasteless food.  This possibly comes back to the food processing industry making jars of baby food (if you’ve ever tasted it, bland is too kind a description)!  These foods, especially the ones marketed to toddlers (who are old enough to be eating family food), also perpetuates the concept of children needing separate meals.  The food marketers are very clever indeed, further undermining the dining process by inventing food in a squeezable pouch – no utensils required; as they advertise, ‘kids can run and play whilst eating’!  This really upsets me as enjoying food is so much more than taste, (and the advertising certainly ads another meaning to the term ‘fast’ food).  Enjoying a real meal involves seeing it, touching it (babies are meant to squish their food in their hands) and smelling it (whilst seated).  What hope do we have for developing healthy eating habits in this generation if we cannot even see, touch or smell the food we are eating!    I do understand the convenience of this type of packaging, but the concept still irritates me (in case you didn’t notice)!

Kids foods and meals
The food industry also generates profit by selling us everyday foods, only packaged differently and marketed for children.  I don’t mean just treat foods, but also daily foods such as yoghurt, milk, cheese, breakfast cereals, crackers etc;  These often expensive ‘kiddie versions’ of foods, are quite simply not necessary, in fact very often they are even more processed.   We, as a society, seem to have largely embraced this mentality.  We have subconsciously categorised foods into those for kids and those for adults.  Even in restaurants and fast food chains, we have meals, especially for kids.

One meal
In most cultures out side of the Western world, children once weaned eat what their parents eat.  This means that they may eat rich, spicy or aromatic meals.  What ever the cuisine, children eat what their parents eat, together as a family.  This cultural link is being lost to us and we need to reclaim it.  The reality is, that once foods have been (slowly) introduced to babies and any potential food intolerance’s have been identified, children can and should eat the same food as adults.  I’ve let my children eat any food we have eaten from a very early age.  My food loving husband has a pretty ‘out their’ palate, so they’ve tried it all.  I’m a bit more conservative, especially on the back of my vegetarian years.  However my kids have both developed a great palate, with individual tastes and leanings.  My five year old is a vegetable, legume and salad sort of guy.  My daughter on the other hand, is and always will be, a carnivore – she gnaws on bones like a cave woman (and has the temper of one too!).  Their tastes have also continued to change over the years, so I never know what they may develop a taste for next – because of this I NEVER stop offering and encouraging them to try food.  Even the ones they have rejected in the past.

An epidemic of food fussiness
The next cause is food fussiness, which I believe is also driven by the ‘bland’ only approach in the early years, amongst other things that I’ll discuss soon.  All of my children’s posts (and tips for children) are working towards resolving fussiness.  However if you are prepared to continue to prepare separate meals for your children and risk loosing a critically important social connection via food, then resolving food fussiness will be difficult.  Making changes doesn’t mean ignoring their individual tastes or force feeding them, but it does mean setting some boundaries and perhaps altering the way you structure and serve meals.

One family, one meal
Preparing just one wholesome meal, for the family to enjoy together is essential. So many parents in an attempt to please everyone spend way too much time in the kitchen preparing several mediocre meals.  I believe in preparing one delicious wholesome meal for everyone, with lots of variety allowing for individual tastes is critical.  This is why I try to structure my recipes with lots of variations, so you can adapt them to suit individual tastes.

But here’s the tricky bit, how do you please everyone?  Well, the short answer is you never will and the food divide in your family will continue to widen as long as you keep giving in to fussiness.  So here’s some suggestions:

Put it all on the table
If you put food out on the table, then older kids can self-serve (this empowers them with choice).  Young ones, you can just dish it up and they can pick through it themselves.  By being on the table, everyone can see it, smell it and try it if they are inclined.  For example, BBQ and salad.  The meat gets piled on one plate to help yourselves.  The salad, also on the table, has a little of everything, and if some of the family dislike a few ingredients, they can just pick those out (or in the case of cucumber which my daughter and I can’t stand, served separately in a little side bowl for the boys).  Sauces and condiments can go on the table too.  Food fussiness just doesn’t exist in many cultures, and one common aspect amongst them is this ‘buffet’ or ‘tapas’ shared food approach.  This concept really is a great food fussiness buster!

Let them decide
Parents often preempt what their kids will and won’t like.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents tell their kids,you won’t like that’ instead of letting them find out for themselves.  I have watched a dear friend of mine wrestle a ‘sweet chilli flavoured’ rice cracker off her toddler whilst yelling ‘that’s adults food, it will burn your mouth’.  I’ve also heard one friend tell her kids ‘you won’t like that sausage, it’s not Coles brand,’ much to my shock.  Extreme examples, I know, but how many times have you made a food decision on behalf of your child (I know I have)?  We need to be conscious of doing this, and let our kids try any whole foods they are inclined.

If you have a very fussy older child
Then you may need to set down some rules.  For example; start off at the market by letting them know they are going to eat three vegetables each night this week.  They pick which ones, bag them and you serve them in a big self-serve bowl on the table, or as part of a dish, with any other vegetables you want to eat too.  Remember to try to make them interesting with dressings and sauces, served on the side of course if not everyone agrees.

Make it tasty
Ditch bland food.  Make curries for kids, they often love the cinnamon and other delicious spices, just avoid the chilli.  I always put the chilli flakes on the table come serving so each of us can control our own heat.  I urge you to give your kids the opportunity to taste as many different foods as possible.  Why not encourage them to try some chilli.  Start off with a small amount and if it does happen to become too hot, then just mix in a little natural yoghurt or add coconut cream to dampen the heat.  My son has a palate for very spicy foods that even I struggle with.  I would never have known this if I hadn’t given him the opportunity to try things like wasabi, hot English mustard and chilli (his favourite food is chilli mussels).

When eating out
When dining out with little ones, instead of ordering a bland, often unhealthy kids meal, give them a little of your meal instead.  They are more inclined to sit for longer this way too.  As they get older, order an adults meal and split it between them.  We often order a few meals and share them amongst us.  At least, they are eating real, less processed food this way.  Ditch the kids meals I say!

Accept that your child won’t starve
Appetites will vary from child to child and from time to time.  Most adults tend to overeat and we push the need to do so onto our children (I know I have suffered allot of anxiety feeling ‘they haven’t eaten enough’).  So if I don’t think my children have had enough to eat, yet they say they’ve finished, I cover their meal and if they suddenly become hungry later, they know that’s what they are having.  May seem a little harsh to some, but I really don’t like seeing food go to waste.  Also, children develop really bad habits if they are allowed to skip a decent meal, only to be given a snack or treat later on.

So that’s all I have to say on this point.  I hope I have given you a little ‘food for thought.’  The topic of feeding children well is a BIG one and everyone has their own issues.  Please give me some feed back as the most difficult part of writing on this subject is what part to explore next.  So help me out and post questions, comment, challenge my ideas – anything to help me to help you.

 

For the next Well Nourished Child, I plan to post on snacking.  Until then, share what you find most difficult about feeding your kids?  Post a comment below.  

 

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  • Oh, I am so glad those days are behind me. Two of my three were horribly fussy (my fault no doubt). I’m sorry to say that we used to eat separately to the kids reasonably frequently. Being able to eat what *we* wanted was a bonus. The main reason though was that they wanted to eat at a normal dinner time and we wanted to wind down first and eat late.

    Happily, none of them are fussy these days and they tell me that “you gave us pretty healthy food as we were growing up” which is not my memory of it but if it’s theirs then it’s all good! 🙂

    • We all just do the best we can as parents don’t we? It’s a tough job that’s for sure. My aim with these posts is to just get parents thinking about how they can perhaps do better (and exploring these topics gets me thinking too)! You have obviously done something right – good memories are THE most important thing, they never fade! G x

  • I think we all do the best we know how to do.

    When I was married, I never cooked. My husband loved cooking and I wasn’t allowed to cook which suited me just fine. He kept me supplied with wine and cheese and crackers until he was ready to serve up. Win-win — until we split up and I had no idea how to cook.

    I came across the Slow Food movement in the year after my marriage broke up, and it really gelled with me and I started to get excited about food. But by that time the two oldest kids no longer lived with me and the youngest spent about half his time with me. I do regret not “finding” food while they were younger, but the good news is that they grew to love my cooking. It got so they’d ask at least a couple of nights a week if they could come over for dinner. So nice that my grown-up kids wanted to be around so often!

    Then my daughter moved in with her boyfriend who is a great cook and he was absolutely horrified at her lack of cooking knowledge (cos of course I never cooked when she was a kid so she never learned) and I remember my guilt when she sent me an panicked SMS saying “How do you cook a roast?” I had to laugh but oh, my. It brought home just how deprived their childhoods were!

    • Isn’t it wonderful how food brings people together. I don’t think your kids are alone or deprived. I had a distant relative from Ireland stay with me once. She bought a packet of crumpets for her breakfast and sat eating them raw! When I asked if she wanted to toast them, she said she’d love that but didn’t know how to use the toaster! Her mum had always done it for her! LOL! As a very new mum at that time, I made a mental note not to ‘do it all’ for my kids. Though it is NEVER too late to learn to cook as your daughter is finding out. x

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  • Vikki

    Thank you for the great tips. I found your website through a Facebook fructose malabsorption page and i love it. I made some of your yummy biscuits today!. I commented on another post of yours yesterday about my one year old. I’ve been debating what to do with my fussy 3 yo, (my other problem child!) I give her a different lunch to me and my one yr old as Miss 3 only eats certain things but I just can’t do it anymore. Like you say, she gets an inferior meal but I’ve just given up on her eating vegetables or anything that’s not rice or pasta. She’s so stubborn. Should I be giving her the same with lunches too? She eats peanut butter most days. I spend hours on the internet looking for yummy foods and its so disheartening when both my daughters turn up their noses

    • As I’ve just said on your other comment, please try to get some support. One of my babies went through a period of waking through the night. I did a phone consult with a sleep consultant and even though I new most of what they told me, it felt good having a set of guidelines in place and being accountable to someone else. Plus a naturopath should be able to rule out if deficiency is driving her fussiness. Having consulted with lots of fussy kids over the years, I know they take direction from a third party often better than parents. I feel your frustration. I try to offer fussy eating options in most of my recipes so keep looking for tips. G x

  • Georgie

    Thanks for this amazing site. I wish I could meet you, I have endless questions and advice that I would love to hear. Ok, so I’ll try not to blab on too much. I torment myself with worry about my boys & their eating. Breakfast is always weetbix with natural yoghurt. Lunch is usually bread, ham & cheese. Evening meal is the biggest struggle. Our life at present doesn’t allow us to eat as a family. we run our own business 7 days a week until 8pm every night. So it’s either mummy or daddy with kids or one of us working in business. It’s totally stressful and we’re trying to move on from our situation, hopefully it will happen in next 6 months. So in the meantime do I just plod along as I am with my 3 and half year old and 2 year old or try to make changes now. It’s not always been stressful at meal time, but mostly is. So right now the only veg 3yo eats is frozen peas (literally frozen), carrot sticks, cherry tomato. 2y.o roast pumpkin, chickpeas, corn on cob (hit & miss for both of them). Spag bol is the fav and I always make sauce from scratch. Chicken curry with hidden veg goes ok and eggs always a winner. 3 yo used to eat more veges but insists he doesn’t like certain things now. I love your tip on sharing a small plate of what they’re eating and then eat with hubby later. I pre-prepare all their meals and freeze in portions, seems to be only way I can cope. I have cut out heaps of sugar from their diet, use rice malt syrup in baking and try to limit fruit intake (although very hard in summer time). Every meal of every day is rushed. Their diet is healthy enough I think, but feels sooooo limited & bored with it. I am stressing out about it. Do I wait until we can all eat together before I make real changes? Further complications are that our 2 yo couldn’t even physically eat normally until after 12mths age. he had hypersenstive palate resulting in massive gagging & massive vomitting. Specialist feeding team saved my sanity and we worked through it but I feel he still shows signs of it when it comes to texture of food more than actual taste. we live in a really small town with limited access at supermarket to range of foods. Meal ideas and advice is what I’m really seeking I suppose and possible some assurance that things aren’t as bad as they seem.

    • Hi Georgie, you sound like you are under a lot of pressure. Try not to stress about food as your kids will pick up on your energy. Use any meal time that you can to eat with them (breakfast or lunch) and use those times to introduce new things or offer foods they might not eat (good for them to see you enjoy the things they don’t). Hide veges if you have to. At that age I find reward charts for trying/eating veges work well. Drop little hints about how barbie/bob the builder (whoever appeals the most) loves carrots etc. Persist, they will not change their habits overnight. Just do what you and your sanity can manage. i will keep posting tips and thoughts on developing healthy habits – take from it what you can. It sounds like they mostly have a whole food diet – variety will come with time and persistence. Don’t be too hard on yourself, you can only do the best you can. I hope I can continue to inspire and support you with my posts and recipes, G x

  • Tania Wilson

    Hi Georgia, I have just found your site and am so impressed. Like others who have posted below a we are so typical of a western ,two parent, full-time working family, time poor and have a diet that is predominantly easy and processed. I have two children an 8 year old daughter and a 6 year old son. My son in particular is exceedingly resistant to anything remotely looking like a vegetable, although he loves fruit though and yoghurt. I really want to move our family to a diet that is nutirent and fresh food rich. What do you suggest is the best place to start to get everyone on board, particularly fussy eaters?

  • Hi Tania, thrilled you are enjoying my site. I’m in the process of putting together a library of podcasts (so busy mums and dad can just listen when it suits) which really breaks down tackling food fussiness and raising whole food loving kids – its a few months away from completion so keep an eye out for it.

    For now I’d be explaining to your family the importance of eating well and that you will be working hard to improve family meals because you love them and want the best of health for them (it’s important to share an intention so you are all on the same page). If your not already eating as a family do so as often as possible. Get your kids to help choose and/or prepare food with you. You could maybe ask your fussy one to pick a new vegetable a week and you do your best to prepare it in a way he might like (think adding it to a food or flavour he likes already). It may be that he simply washes or peels it for you (nothing to complicated, just token involvement).

    Explain to him that his taste buds change regularly and that he is old enough to try new vegetables each week (try to discuss vegetables in terms of making him faster/ stronger/ smarter or anything that will appeal to him personally – sell veggies to him).

    The most important thing to do is never give up – your job is to present them (trying to make them as delicious as possible), he is required to at least try them. Good luck and keep an eye out for my new library as I know you will find it hugely beneficial, Cheers G x

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