Helping children to eat real, nutritious food can be incredibly tricky. So, when we asked our making-food-fun expert Sarah from Practise Glow how you can help your child eat real food, she has made it only too easy to put some stress-free (and fun) strategies in place for eating well and nourishing your little ones. We’ve focused on feeding the fussy eater, and now we’re talking 6 life saving strategies to help your children eat ‘real’ food.
1. Set boundaries around favourite ‘not so healthy’ food:
- Talk with your child about when they can eat some of their favourite foods. Discuss how many servings they can have and why they are allowed this treat. Getting your child involved gives them a sense of independence and ownership, which can help them comply with boundaries.
- Make the best choice about what ‘not so healthy food’ your child will eat. Remember what we eat most often matters more than what we sometimes eat. Everyone has the right to indulge every now and then!
2. Make food fun.
It never ceases to amaze me just how important our visual system plays in the process of eating.
- Make food look fun! Invest in cookie cutters, colourful plates or some fun cutlery. Need some food art inspiration? Check out Instagram or Pinterest for drool worthy creations.
- Turn eating into a game. Encourage your children to eat a rainbow of food.
- Involve your child. Provide your child with carrot sticks, grapes, and sprouts and make flowers, people, animals, a house… Or your own creation!
MNB messy-phobia mum’s mantra:
“By making food fun and messy I am helping my child to eat nutritious food”. Repeat.
3. Cook together.
Children love helping out in the kitchen. It’s a genius strategy for incidental taste testing, hands on exploration and educating children about new foods. Your child can:
- Pour, stir, roll and mix. Children can press cookie cutters into dough to make cookies and knead pizza dough.
- Help find ingredients in the pantry. While they are at it teach your child how to measure and weigh ingredients (incidental maths lesson?!).
- Pick herbs, mash and wash vegetables. Older children can learn to chop, peel and grate vegetables and turn on the oven (with supervision).
- Turn on appliances. Buttons and children? A match made in heaven. Let them turn on the food processor or the blender (with supervision of course!).
- Stuck for time? Set your child up with toys in the kitchen while you cook. Being around food will spark curiosity and you never know, some incidental taste testing!
4. Eat through the senses
- Did you know that before we put food into our mouth we can predict the texture, taste, temperature? Children find this more difficult especially if the food is unfamiliar.
- Start by encouraging your child to touch the food. Squash, mash and play with the food. Because new foods can be hard to predict and hence possibly scary, have a napkin close in case your child needs to wipe their hands.
- Wear your food. Dab it on their arm, cheeks, nose, tongue. Get a make over yourself!
- Aim for a single bite. If they eat more, that’s great! If not don’t worry. Give them a high five anyway and try again another time. It’s important to end on a positive note with a ‘can do’ attitude.
Top tip: Introduce new foods with flavours that your child is already familiar with. If your child likes potato wedges try adding in a few sweet potato wedges.
5. Eat together as a family.
- You are a walking billboard for healthy eating for your child. Be your message.
- Mix up where you eat. Create excitement around trying new foods by having picnics in the garden, eating in a tent in the backyard or in the park.
- Have a weekly ‘surprise food’. Cover it up and play a guessing game, giving your child lots of different clues.
- Dish up new food together. Ask your child direct questions and offer choices. “Would you like two spoonfuls or one?” “Would you like to try the beans or the carrots?”. Again, children love exercising some independence. It helps to foster a ‘can do’ attitude.
- 6. Add in veggies. . . Slowly!
I recommend this strategy as a last resort. I would much rather you have success in educating your child about healthy food, have them taste it for themselves and realise how yummy it is.
- Add spinach to smoothies. Spinach has a mild taste so it is easily masked by other flavours.
- Add sweet potato puree to chocolate cakes or pancakes.
- Avocado works wonderful in a chocolate mousse or chocolate frosting for cupcakes and cakes.
- Add new vegetables to tolerated foods such as adding parsnip or sweet potato to a potato mash or finely chopped vegetables to met balls or sausage roll mince.
Snack time: Chocolate berry smoothie
Smoothies are one of my favourite ways to throw lots of yummy ingredients together. They are easy to slurp up and can be easily transported. Start with a small amount of spinach and increase this slowly. Win!
6 Life Saving Strategies To Help Children Eat REAL Food!
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: Serves 1
So now it is over to you. Be patient and persistent. If you’re still feeling stuck or worried about your child’s nutrition or weight consult a professional who has specific skills working with children with food related difficulties.
Sarah Tamburrini, is a children’s Occupational Therapist + parent coach + writer who is passionate about helping children glow from both inside and out. Sarah is currently studying to become a holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Sarah’s coaching helps children to eat real food, beam out improved attention, ditch the tantrums, ace that spelling test and enjoy mealtimes with the family again. Sarah is passionate about working with children who are picky eaters and children with food intolerances and gut sensitivities, which may or may not exist in the context of a disability or condition. Sarah has many years of experience supporting children’s development despite developmental delay, Autism and Attention Deficit Disorders.