We learn about food from an early age, so the way we teach our kids to eat and nourish their bodies will have a profound, flow-on effect for their own children. We can see this in our own relationship with food. It was informed by a number of things, from what our parents served us to how food was eaten and what constituted a snack food. From indirect experiences, we learned how we should behave around food – for example what ‘adults’ eat and what ‘children’ eat – and we even learned from the expectations our parents had around dinner times. What we understood from all this observation, including our observations of the world around us (plus our experiences), is not necessarily true – they are beliefs about food. And beliefs can be changed.
In saying this, you may feel like this is now a bit of a communication minefield; for instance, you may notice that your children enjoy a lot of foods that you would rather they didn’t eat, but also be aware that you don’t want to make foods ‘good’ or ‘bad’. So, here are a few easy tips to help your children develop a good relationship with food, including embracing nutritious foods.
Rather than cutting out the things they enjoy, you might first focus on adding more wholefoods into their diet. Wholefoods are those items that either don’t need a food label (for example, veges and fruit) or only have one to two ingredients added if they are out of a packet, like rice cakes, peanut butter and raw nuts. Introducing and eating more wholefoods will improve your little one’s nutrition and see them start to choose those items more as they grow up.
Check food labels for numbers and other foreign ingredients. These are indicative of what has been added during processing to preserve shelf-life and add colour and flavour. Preservatives are added to stop bacteria from growing on food in order to increase its shelf-life. Unfortunately, when we eat preservatives, they affect the good bacteria balance in our digestive systems that we need for digestion, immunity and mental wellbeing. You would be shocked how many numbers you’ll find in the likes of sandwich ham, bags of grated cheese, bread, biscuits and dried fruit.
No matter what age they are, you can get children involved in the kitchen. If they have been involved in the creation of food – whether by planting and caring for herb seedlings, picking out the vegetables, or chopping, mixing, cooking or serving the meal – then they will be more interested in eating it. A good book on this is Healthy Little Eaters: How to Help Your Children Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food by Wal Herring.
Include sources of good fats regularly in your children’s meals – these are crucial for brain development and keep blood sugar levels more stable. This makes learning and concentration easier. Good examples include avocado, salmon, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, olives and olive oil. Mashed kūmara, canned salmon and a beaten egg mix together well and can be shaped to make easy patties, which can be pan-fried or baked in the oven for an easy weekend brunch or meal.
This is a great recipe to get children involved in the food-making process and provides a good alternative to store-bought muesli bars.
½ cup raw honey (or brown rice syrup)
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1 cup jumbo rolled oats
½ cup sesame seeds
½ cup pumpkin seeds
½ cup sunflower seeds
1 cup shredded coconut
Optional 1–2 Tbsp chopped dates, cacao nibs, dark chocolate pieces, chia seeds or flax seeds
In a small pot, combine the butter, honey (or brown rice syrup) and cinnamon over a low heat, stirring until melted and combined.
Pop the oats, seeds and coconut into a large fry pan and toast over a low heat for 5–10 minutes, stirring often (the coconut will colour and the pumpkin seeds will start to pop).
Add the dry toasted mix to the melted butter mix. Add in optional dried fruit, cacao nibs, chocolate or chia/flax seeds, if using. Mix until combined.
Press into a 20cm x 30cm slice tin lined with baking paper. Use the back of a big wet spoon to really compact it into the tray.
Put it in the freezer for at least 10 minutes or until set. Remove from the tin and cut into squares or rectangles. Keep them refrigerated or frozen so you can add them to the children’s lunchboxes each day.
These muesli bars can be made dairy-free by swapping out the butter for coconut oil.