Helping children eat healthily

Ensuring that your children eat healthily can be a real challenge. Not only are some children picky eaters, but being stretched for time and watching the monthly food budget can make mealtimes an ordeal. However, there are ways to make mealtimes healthier while keeping the family happy and the bank balance in check. Have a look at the following tips for ideas on how you can help your children to eat more healthily without mealtime battles.

A moveable feast

Children’s likes and dislikes are notoriously unpredictable. They might love a food one day and refuse it the next, not to mention that their appetites don’t always line up with family mealtimes. Like adults, children can also quickly become disenchanted with the ‘same old’ meals. Serving a combination of new foods and those they’re used to allow them to enjoy variety with the added comfort of the familiar. When doing your weekly shop, plan on serving one new type of food a day to begin with (working up to two or three a day as you go along), and ensure that you’ve also covered off the essential food groups. And remember that foods in season are fresher and less expensive. 

Home cooking really is better for you

Parents have long days and cooking from scratch can sometimes feel like too much. Dedicate a couple of hours a week to cooking healthy meals in bulk and freeze them until needed. Stews and most casseroles freeze well and can be divided into small or large containers. Take one out in the morning and leave it in the fridge – it will be thawed by the time you get home and you’ll have the benefit of knowing that you’ve avoided unhealthy amounts of salt, fat, artificial flavourings and other preservatives. If your children are old enough, include them in the food preparation. They’ll learn about healthy food choices and build essential skills for life at the same time. Home cooking is better for you, much easier on the budget and really convenient when all you need to do is pull a meal out of the freezer on busy days.

Your children depend on you to make choices for them

As parents, and the ones who do the weekly shop, we have a responsibility to choose wisely. Young children eat what’s given to them and getting them used to healthy foods can be done from a very early age. Keeping unhealthy foods in the house (even if eaten only rarely) just creates temptation. If your child is used to eating well from babyhood, their fascination with crisps, fast foods, biscuits and sweets won’t be as pronounced. We don’t miss what we don’t have and getting your child into the habit of expecting healthy foods consistently will set them on the right course for life.

Remember their five a day

Getting your child to eat their essential five servings of fruit and vegetables a day isn’t easy but mealtime challenges can be avoided if you remember that it’s simple to hide them in your children’s favourite foods. Try adding pureed vegetables to pasta dishes or make your child a nutritious smoothie after school with in-season fruits. Whether dried, stewed, fresh, frozen, tinned or in juice form, all count towards their five a day. And be sure to watch the amount of salt and fat you’re using when adding vegetables to casseroles, sauces and stews; they add up and can undo your good work.

School lunches – the hidden culprit!

While school lunches include a portion of fruit and a portion of vegetables, giving your child a packed lunch can also be a healthy choice. Try adding fun foods like naturally sweet raisins and dried apricots, or baby carrots with a little tub of low fat hummus.

It’s also a good idea to visit your child’s lunch room if you can and ask questions about the amount of support the school gives to picky eaters.

Offer healthy snacks

Keeping healthy snacks within easy reach is a good idea for children who come home from school famished. It’s tempting to keep biscuits in the cupboard as a quick and easy option, but if they’re not in the house, they’re not there to tempt. Try keeping a selection of fresh fruit within easy reach, chilled carrot and celery sticks in the fridge, or smoothie ingredients and healthy choice muesli bars to hand.

Set the example

Children who watch their parents enjoy healthy food are likely to do the same. Try and sit down as a family whenever possible – it’s a good way to show your children that you’re not asking them to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.

You can find additional information on helping your children to eat healthily by visiting these websites:

NHS Choices – packed lunches for school

Advice on what food groups to include in your child’s lunchbox plus tips on encouraging children to enjoy new foods.

Annabel Karmel

This website offers a comprehensive guide to feeding babies, toddlers and families with a range of healthy recipes. You can also obtain advice on weaning, breastfeeding and bottle feeding.

Change4Life - recipes for easy, healthy meals

Information on healthy food choices and cooking for the whole family.

NHS Choices – food labels

Learn more about how to read food labels.