3 steps to helping kids make healthy choices
We all want to help our children make healthier choices; the problem is they often seem to be fundamentally opposed to anything that is vaguely healthy. It seems almost universal that kids love sweet, neon coloured foods, but shy away from dark green vegetables and the like. Unfortunately, it’s those dark green veggies that have the greatest health benefits.
Below are three easy and fun changes you can make to help your children choose healthy more often.
How to help kids make healthy choices
1. Make it a competition
There is little that is more likely to get kids engaged than the chance of winning something. For this to work, you need to make sure the whole family is involved - otherwise, who are they competing against?
Find a rainbow foods checklist online and print a copy for each family member. The list contains examples of whole fresh foods in each colour of the rainbow, and research shows that the more colours you eat each day, the better your health.
Each night at dinner, spend a few minutes checking in who has eaten which colours that day. At the end of the week (or at the end of the month), the person who has eaten the most colours most often is allowed to take a friend to the movies (or choose another reward that suits your family).
This helps kids become aware of the wide range of fresh foods they could be eating. It may make them more willing to try new foods to tick a colour off for that day, and it involves the whole family. Involving the whole family helps the child not to feel singled out or pressurised into eating foods.
2. Bake it
Baking is a fantastic way to hide vegetables. Simply have a vegetable-rich cake ready for your kids when they come home from kindergarten or school and watch them choose healthily! Below you will find a cake recipe that is easily adapted with different grated vegetables.
- two ripe bananas
- 180g oat flour (simply blend oats until they are flour)
- two tbsp date or maple syrup
- 50g chopped walnuts
- 100g butter
- two eggs
- one and a half tsp vanilla extract
- one and a half tsp baking powder
- a quarter tsp salt
- 250g grated carrots/beetroot/parsnip/sweet potato/pumpkin or zucchini (make sure to squeeze all liquid out of the zucchini first)
1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. Grease a bread baking tin (or use a silicon tin).
2. Blend the oats until you have flour.
3. In a bowl mash the bananas. In another bowl mix oat flour, nuts, baking powder and salt.
4. Whip the butter, syrup, eggs, vanilla, and banana together until creamy.
5. Add the dry ingredients and whip until you have a smooth batter. Fold in the grated vegetables.
6. Pour the batter into your baking tin and bake for 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
7. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 30 minutes, then remove from the tin and allow to cool completely.
3. Follow the 'golden rule'
When it comes to nutrition, there is a whole host of conflicting evidence. One thing that is agreed upon by most people though is that blood sugar regulation is important. Poor blood sugar regulation is linked with type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, weight gain, none alcoholic fatty liver disease, mood problems, anxiety, and more. These are symptoms that are becoming more common in children at an alarming rate.
Blood sugar is more likely to become too high when we have drinks, snacks, or meals high in refined carbohydrates and low in fibre, healthy fats, and proteins. Refined carbohydrates are things like sugar, white flour, white rice, and other processed starchy foods.
An example may be a child drinking a sugary drink after school, with no food to accompany the drink (as a side-note, I would like to point out here that drinks sweetened with sweeteners instead of sugar are not necessarily better, as sweeteners come with their negative effects). Or, a child having a refined cereal (like cornflakes, rice crispies, or coco pops) with milk for breakfast; yes, milk counts mostly as sugar.
You may not be able to stop your child from having these foods or drinks overnight. But what you can do is follow a 'golden rule' to support their little bodies in regulating blood sugar, despite this.
Every time your child has a meal or snack, consider whether it contained a source of fibre (whole fruits and vegetables, whole-grains), a source of protein (nuts, seeds, meat, eggs, full-fat dairy products like cheese or natural yoghurt, or beans), and a source of un-refined fats (avocado, nuts, seeds, eggs, extra virgin olive oil, olives, or meat).
For example, instead of having that sugary drink on its own, perhaps they could also have a piece of whole-grain toast with avocado or nut butter? Or, perhaps you could add some natural yoghurt and frozen berries to their morning cereal?
I would love to hear how you get on with these changes and to hear what you do to help your children be healthier!