There are two choices when a child takes on an undesirable habit or action.
- React immediately, nip it in the bud and point out that it is unacceptable or
- Simply ignore in the hope that it will be something they outgrow.
When it comes to the issue of eating habits though, I come from the school of thought that nipping something in the bud is a far better long-term solution.
There are a lot of unconscious emotions attached to eating which is why some habits can unknowingly slip under a parents radar. For example, If a child refuses a healthy food or meal, quite often it is replaced by ‘anything’, with an ‘as long as they eat something’ attitude. This is usually the catalyst and development of a preference for the “five food groups”, which in child terms means pasta, cheese, yoghurt, bread and juice.
So here are some ways to help overcome the most common problems without pressuring or making matters worse.
Common Kids Food Avoidances
By far the most common, a veggiephobe prefers to stay beyond a kilometre radius of vegetables. This can be a hard nut to crack but well worth your perseverance. Children that eat veggies turn into adults that eat veggies along with healthier body weights and overall eating styles.
It is reported that it can take up to 20 tastes of something before a child will accept new foods, so when you may feel your efforts are going in vain, each exposure is worth your trouble. Don’t be afraid to add a squirt of tomato sauce, butter or grated cheese to veggies to make them more appealing. This brings along a sense of familiarity as your child develops their food repertoire. Have fun growing a veggie garden and visit your local fruit markets to inspire your child to view what may be a foreign meal object into an everyday addition.
The first foods our children are usually introduced to are sweet (breast milk included) and let’s face it, we all love sweets! Natural sugars in the form of fruit are, of course, a great choice, but when we start eating too many foods that have added sugar, such as processed foods and soft drinks, that problems begin. Like adults, children can easily develop a sweet tooth and crave sugary items which is why it is important to serve healthy savoury options as much as possible.
Your best ally is to learn how to read food labels – 4 grams of sugar per serving is equivalent to 1 tsp of sugar. Refrain from bringing sugary items into the house and view treats as ‘sometimes ‘foods.
You may notice offering mostly simple carbohydrates foods such as white bread and biscuits leads to an unsatisfied, hungry child. These foods have a high glycaemic load and are digested quickly. A diet mainly consisting of these foods, offer limited nutrients and deficiencies such as iron and zinc can be not too far down the track. If your child is showing preferences for foods such as biscuits, pasta, white bread etc, rather than crunchy vegetables and protein, it usually stems from a texture problem with chewing requiring too much effort.
A way around this issue is to include soft casserole meats, diced finely in a sauce or minced with diced or grated vegetables. This is a great starting point and from there you can aim to gradually substitute the ‘white’ foods with whole-grain options, such as wholemeal instead of white bread, whole grain crackers instead of sweet biscuits and muesli and whole wheat cereals instead of rice bubbles.
Thirst should be quenched by water, not sweet juices. I have seen this problem and how it affects surrounding food choices and eating patterns. Not only are teeth constantly dosed in sugar, but high juice intake can lead to obesity. Drinking juice crowds out the room in little stomachs and takes away the opportunity to eat a proper healthy meal (while easily developing a preference for juice instead of water).
Begin by watering down any juice by halves and quarters. Make water fun by adding a straw or a special new cup that only water is allowed, this is an excellent way to bring excitement to an otherwise plain problem!
Anything worth doing doesn’t usually come easily, so do your best. Good health is one of the most important gifts that we can pass on to our children.