We all know our families should be eating good healthy food. But hands up who finds this a laughable idea that is simply never going to work in your family?
Because a) Your kids don’t like the colour green, or leaves, or things that have seeds in, or any fruit with skin, or funny textures, or things that you need to chew lots, or foods with weird smells, or anything that isn’t orange… (the list goes on, and on, and on!)
And b) Your other half would always choose takeout food or a beer and snacks over other sustenance!
I’m not suggesting that reaching the ideal of having everyone in the family enjoying real, natural, healthy food 24/7 is an easy task. But you might have greater success in increasing the ratio of good healthy food on the family dinner table if you make small changes, step-by-step. With a gradual transition towards healthier eating, you should be able to avoid making mealtimes a battleground.
Here are some of my tips:
1. Make tempting food
Healthy food can appear boring. It’s up to you to make it interesting and tasty and moreish. Think about your family’s favourite dishes and try to reinvent them with a slightly healthier twist. If your other half loves curry, make him a delicious veggie curry. If the kids are big fans of Shepherd’s Pie, add more veggies to the filling (grated or pureed to hide them if they are exceptionally picky) and add some butternut squash to the mash… After they’ve lapped it up, you can let them know that they’ve just eaten red peppers in the sauce and butternut squash in the topping. It might help to open their minds a bit to new flavours.
2. Use child labour!
Try to interest your kids in selecting and preparing food – with any luck this will help foster more enthusiasm about eating it. Let them pick something from the fruit and veggie aisles for your meal and find a way to use it. Or, let them flick through your recipe books and find a recipe they’d like to shop for and help you make. If you grow your own veggies (or would like to), involve kids in the whole process. If they help you sow the seeds and harvest a crop, they could well be more inclined to eat the fruit or veg of their hard work.
3. See food through a child’s eyes
Batons of red peppers, carrots, celery and cucumber are fun to pick up and stick in a dip, but they might not be as appealing to a child in a mixed salad. Your kids may resist a wide variety of fruit in your snack bowl, but blend it into a smoothie, slide it onto a stick to make a fruit kebab, or make it into a real-fruit ice-lolly and they will be way more excited about eating it!
4. Make a hearty breakfast a daily ritual
Most of us prefer eggs on toast (or an omelette, or wholemeal pancakes) over a bowl of Shreddies, so treat your family to a proper, wholesome breakfast every day. You all need it! Get up and start the day like this and it really will help shape better eating habits… not only does breakfast give you energy and protein, but you’re also less likely to suffer a mid-morning slump and start snacking on unhealthy stuff.
5. Try new things… and don’t give up
You want kids to eat something, anything!! So it’s all too tempting to repeatedly dish up the things you know they’ll eat, it’s important to try to serve a few dishes each week that are a bit of a curve ball. Some mums find it works to serve one popular ingredient on the plate, alongside a new recipe. If you ask the kids to try everything on their plate, rather than insisting on a clean plate, the chance of converting them to a new food is higher. If they don’t like it the first time, reintroduce it again later: palates and moods change quickly with kids, so don’t give up on a food just because it’s met with disgust the first time!