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Helping your kids enjoy a healthy diet

Fruit and vegetables don’t taste good – they could, however, eat pizza and pasta every day. Do you and your kids often have different ideas about what should be served for dinner? We will give you eight tips on how you can introduce young eaters to a varied and balanced diet.

 

Kids behave just like their parents

Kids often adopt the same eating habits as their parents. Therefore it is very important that you set a good example. Eat a balanced and varied diet and use the South African Food based dietry Guidelines to assist in you in choosing foods.

Also make sure that you have at least one relaxed meal per day together with the whole family – children, even teenagers, enjoy eating as a family and this gives them the opportunity to tell you about their day at the same time. Meals will become a wonderful experience for you to enjoy.

Would you like to know what the 2011 Nestlé study into childhood nutrition and the eating behaviour of school children has discovered? Read more in Rainbow Nation Health Monitor.

Cooking together

Kids find shopping, cooking and baking exciting. Involve the little ones in these activities where possible. Meals that they have made themselves are usually eaten up, even if they contain ingredients that the child really doesn’t like a lot. The little cooks feel like they are being taken seriously and are proud when they can actively contribute to preparing the meal. You can also tell the children about the basics of a balanced diet. While cooking, tell them what each individual food contains and why these nutrients are good. It is also fun to vary the eating routine sometimes. If, for example, you cook a vegetable stir-fry together, simply eat it with chopsticks afterwards!

Fruit and vegetables: mmmm…delicious

Children often prefer raw vegetables to cooked vegetables. Keep some raw vegetables aside while cooking and offer them to your kids if they get hungry again between meals. Small cheese and vegetable skewers, fruit skewers or crunchy vegetable sticks with a tasty dip are also good snacks between meals. You can also try “hiding” vegetables by blending them and serving them as a sauce for pasta, rice, potatoes or meat – many kids also enjoy a creamy vegetable soup. Generally, kids also like vegetables served in funny shapes, e.g. faces made from brightly coloured vegetables placed on a slice of bread, or faces cut into fruit. Fruit appeals to kids if it is put in a milkshake or mixed into yoghurt or quark.

A little imagination really helps ensure good nutrition for children. Try the “Treasure Island Pizza” sometime using plenty of fresh vegetables – your children will definitely enjoy this recipe.

Sweets have a place on the menu

Sweets also have their place in a balanced diet for kids. They should, however, be treated as a bonus. It is best to set down rules for your kids when eating sweets – for example, one treat per day after a meal. Or agree a weekly ration – keep this in a tin that is kept specially for your child, for example. Consequently, they can have one sweet every day under your supervision. Fruit can also stop cravings for sweets. Offer your kid a piece of fruit instead of something sweet from time to time.

Further tips on the appropriate “dose” of sweets can be found in our “Place for Treats” article.

Breakfast: the morning’s energy boost

Your kids need a good breakfast in the morning to get them going – a breakfast that provides their body and mind with new energy after the long night. There are four components to a balanced breakfast: milk or dairy products, fruit or vegetables, bread or cereals – wholemeal varieties if possible – and a drink.

This structure provides a lot of room for variety: milk, lightly-sweetened cocoa, soured milk or buttermilk, natural yoghurt, a slice of cheese or something similar are all good options. Tasty apple slices, grapes, cucumber, peppers, carrots or radishes also taste good in the mornings – either as finger food or on skewers for instance. An excellent alternative to the morning slice of bread with lean sausage, cheese or a sweet spread is a home-made muesli with oats or other cereal flakes. Calorie-free thirst quenchers such as mineral water or unsweetened herbal and fruit teas are ideal, but diluted juice spritzers of 1/3 juice to 2/3 water are also OK.

It is best for children to have two breakfasts: the first breakfast forms the basis for the day and is somewhat more substantial. The second is eaten during the morning to keep hunger away until lunch. Small children who are grumpy at breakfast and who have no appetite in the mornings can do the reverse. They only eat or drink a little in the mornings and have their main breakfast meal later – getting a more substantial snack during breaktime at nursery or school.

Is your kid grumpy at breakfast? Read how you can make breakfast enjoyable for your kids in “Breakfast hits for morning grumps”.

Healthy fast food

Fast food, such as hamburgers and pizza, is very popular with many children. If your child loves these foods, make them home-made fast food: cook a chicken breast or hamburger using lean mince, serve it in a wholegrain roll with plenty of salad and vegetables. If your little fast food fan likes to eat pizza, sprinkle this with lots of fresh vegetables and, if your kid likes pasta, use wholemeal pasta more often or mix normal pasta with wholemeal pasta. A sauce made from puréed vegetables, for example, is a good accompaniment. Whether or not this meal is a hit will only become clear after trying it several times. This is because the taste buds must encounter a meal up to seven times before a final verdict can be made on it.

Children learn to like whatever they are served often. You can use this principle to introduce a new meal to them. Serve your child a meal that they really don’t like more often: perhaps they will like it in the end and you can add a new meal to your repertoire.

What to do if your child is overweight?

If a child weighs too much, the whole family must take measures against it. Above all a clear routine is helpful: regular mealtimes help avoid hunger pangs. Three main meals and up to two snacks are recommended and should be eaten together as a family as often as possible. This is because children and young people who eat with their family at least three times a week tend to maintain a healthier weight and demonstrate healthier patterns of eating behaviour than children who eat on their own.

Distractions such as TV, comics or mobile phones should be banned during meals – these lead them to eat more. Furthermore, little tricks have proven successful. Drinking water before and during the meal fills the stomach and lessens hunger somewhat. This rule also applies: everyone takes a small portion at first, cuts everything carefully and eats slowly. In this way it is easier to tell when you are full. Another tip: never treat eating as a reward. The child is then comforted by sweets when they are sad or stressed.

Such behavioural patterns have an effect for their entire lives. It is better to, for instance, praise the child, go swimming together or read a story to them. If your child is very overweight, you should speak to a paediatrician in any case: he or she will discuss and help you put together an eating plan for your child and advise you well.

Are you unsure whether your child’s weight is within the right limits? Take a look at our “Children’s BMI calculator”.

Exercise is fun

Kids need a lot of exercise, particularly if they tend towards being overweight. Check when you have opportunities to fit this into your daily routine. Send your child to school on foot or on a bicycle instead of taking them there by car or putting them on the bus. Use the stairs rather than the lift. Urge your child to walk – three year olds, for example, no longer have to be in a buggy for walks. Do something active with your family at the weekend: swimming, walking and climbing are fun for everyone.

Furthermore, sport at a sports club is perfect. Does your child enjoy a particular type of sport? Register them with a sports club. Ideally the sports club should be nearby and easily reachable, also for older children to be able to go on their own. It is particularly important to pay attention to the amount of time spent consuming media each day. Limit the amount of time your child spends watching TV, videos or using the PC. Free time is better spent jumping, running, skipping and playing. As a basic guide: until primary school age, half an hour to an hour of media time is OK; for older children this should be a maximum of one to two hours per day.

Which sport do you think your child would enjoy most? Our “Sport Finder“ will help you choose.