Tips on raising your kids to love healthy food

British celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, has made it his mission to teach kids to eat healthy. One of the problems he came across was that a lot of people still thought that “eating healthy” was expensive; that it’s almost like a luxury.

“We need to make fresh food more affordable than processed food because the most at-risk people right now won’t be my kid or yours,” he said, speaking of lower income families.

With South African children more obese now than ever before, we’re not doing any better. Apart from obesity, unhealthy eating also puts our kids at risk of many other conditions like diabetes and heart conditions.

A family health kick-start

We know that most kids are fussy, and sometimes – you just want to give them a sweet so they can stop crying. So here are some practical ways you can help your family improve their health:

Start with the basics.

Take your kids grocery shopping and walk through the different aisles (not just your usual stops!). Expose them to different types of foods that you don’t usually eat, and explain its health benefits. For example, compare brown rice to white rice, wholewheat bread to white bread. For your next outing, get your kids to pick out a food for each colour of the rainbow. Make it a game, and tell them they’re only allowed to pick foods that come directly from the earth: no packets or boxes. Then cook together, and turn it into a fun teaching event.

Lead by example.

Do you label foods and “good” or “bad”? Your kids may be picking up on this and copying you. Make a real effort to focus on how the food impacts your body, not how fat or thin it makes you feel. For example, tell your soccer player son that the protein in the chicken helps build strong muscles.

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Don’t nag!

There’s no point nagging your child about eating chips in front of the TV if that’s what you brought home from the shops. Instead, make sure that the food you buy and serve at home is healthy. Offer your child healthier choices over the not-so-healthy favourites (like oven-roasted potato wedges, or nuts instead of fried chips).

Don’t use food as a prize.

We do it all the time! We stick to a diet for a week and then “reward” ourselves with a chocolate. Or maybe we talk about “cheat” days to eat all kinds of fattening, greasy treats. Your child picks up on this type of thinking. Make food normal for children. Get them involved in shopping. When you’re in the kitchen cooking, give them choices between two healthy foods, for instance, carrots or peas, apples or pears and make sure to praise their healthy food choices.

Watch those portions.

If you’re always serving huge plates at home, and insist your child finishes every last bite, he’s going to always expect this type of meal size. One study showed that children served themselves much smaller portions than adults. That’s okay: rather teach them to listen to their bodies, and eat according to that.

Fast and healthy is possible.

It’s not the best thing for children, but sometimes they just want a burger, fries, and milkshake. As long as it isn’t too often, fast food can be a treat. Don’t supersize the meal and where possible, choose the salad over fries. At the same time, encourage your child to choose water instead of the milkshake.

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