Monday, August 8, 2016

The Importance of Promoting Healthy Eating in the Early Years

From the moment that your child is born, his or her relationship with food begins and, as a parent, it is important that we nurture this relationship and ensure that, when possible, it is a healthy one.  Living a healthy and well-nourished lifestyle is important for your child's physical and mental development, which is why it's so essential that children are encouraged to develop healthy eating habits and eat a healthy and balanced diet.

The consequences of not enjoying a healthy diet can be dire.  The obesity crisis means that more than two thirds of adults in this country are considered to be overweight and obese, and around one third of children between the ages of six and nineteen are either overweight or obese.   Healthy eating could not be more important.  So, how can you promote and encourage these healthy eating habits?  Here are just a few tips and ideas.

"Unwrapped Dum Dums Lollipops" by DDGuy


Most children are notoriously fussy eaters, and many parents find it difficult to encourage their children to eat, and worry that they are not getting enough calories each day.  This is one of the main reasons parents succumb and allow their children to eat an excess of junk food, such as chicken nuggets and french fries.  One way around this is to take a different approach to dinner time.  When cooking your main evening meal, always make sure that you offer at least one item that the kid likes and will eat.  You should also only cook a limited amount of the starch dish.  Cook extras of the fruits and vegetables and other healthy components, in order to encourage second helpings.  Why not try our recipe for hidden vegetable pizza (below) which is a great way to introduce those extra veggies in a way that your kids will enjoy?


Many parents reward their children with unhealthy food, positioning candy and chocolate as "treats."  This can be very damaging and can create a long term mentality of associating food with rewards.  Instead, consider rewarding children with non-edible treats, such as a trip to their local bounce house, a day out to the park, or even a small toy or gift.  If you do decide to reward them with food, introduce healthy treats such as fruit, or even fruit incorporated into cake (see our recipe for a healthy fruit tart, below).  If you do succumb and bring junk food such as sweets and candies into your home for your children, then choose the smallest possible package size.


Finally, the most important aspect of instilling lifelong healthy eating is education.  It is important to make your children aware of the differences between healthy and unhealthy foods and the effects that they have on their bodies.  Because of children's susceptibility to eating disorders (regardless of their age, gender, or current weight) it is important not to focus too deeply on weight and on the concept of being obese or "fat."  Instead, position healthy foods as something that helps children to grow strong and healthy.  No food should be forbidden.  Banning things only makes children want them more.  Instead, encourage your children to make healthy choices as much as possible, but acknowledge that the occasional sugar craving is not something that should be ignored, and it's important to include a huge range of different foods (even less healthy ones) in your diet.

"Summer kids eat lunch" by U.S. Department of Agriculture

These small changes can really help to promote healthy eating.  By talking to your children and explaining why you are making these changes to their diet and the positive effects on their lives and their bodies, you are likely to find that your kids will get on board with the idea very quickly.


Hidden Vegetable Pizza

1 Cup fresh spinach
1 Cup mushrooms
1 whole green pepper
1 jar of spaghetti sauce or passatta
mozzarella cheese
1 premade pizza crust

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Use a blender to blend together the spinach, mushrooms, pepper and spaghetti sauce.
Spread the sauce over the pizza crust.
Top with mozzarella cheese.
Bake for 10-15 minutes and then serve hot.

Healthy Fruit Tart

15 Medjool dates, pre-soaked
1 Cup cashew nuts
1 Cup Greek yogurt
Assorted sliced fresh fruit (depending on child's preference)

Use a blender to blend together the dates and cashew nuts into a dough.
Press dough evenly into a lightly greased pie tin.
Spread the yogurt over the top of the pie crust.
Decorate with the fruit, then slice and serve.

About the Author
Helen Watts is a freelance writer and mother.  She began writing professionally after becoming a mother and leaving a varied career as a nutritionist and dietician.  She is particularly passionate about healthy eating for children.

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