Real food

Tricia Wanjala explains how to encourage your children to acquire good eating habits for life

HealthDo you struggle to get your child to eat a good range of fruits and vegetables? Are you concerned that they are not getting enough nutrients from their food? We are what we eat and ‘real food’ contributes to a healthy immune system capable of preventing and fighting disease. Encouraging good eating habits in your child is giving them a gift for life.

What is ‘real food’?
Real food is either plants, or animals that have eaten those plants. It is locally grown, fresh and seasonal. Real food is not made in a lab or a factory – it is something our great grandmothers would recognise as food. If it comes in a box with a distant expiry date or a list of unintelligible ingredients, the chances are it is not ‘real food’.

Stock nothing but real food
Don’t buy junk or processed foods – shop in the outer aisles of the supermarket. Purchase fresh produce and single ingredients to cook from scratch.

Gradually replace artificial with real
Introduce the good stuff gradually so that it eventually crowds out the bad. Replace processed cooking oil with olive oil and coconut oil. Use raw honey, molasses and real maple syrup instead of sugar. Use natural herbs and spices instead of powdered flavourings and cubes.

Lead by example
Eat at least one meal a day as a family and let them see you enjoying the food. Your children will copy your own eating habits – so make sure they are good.

Get your kids involved
Train your child to be a ‘foodie.’ Take him with you to the market. Let him touch, smell and select produce. If you have a garden, get him involved in growing food. Buy mini-aprons and cookbooks and let him cook with you from day one.

Great ideas to follow
Give a big breakfast
The notion of boxed ‘breakfast foods’ is a marketing gimmick. Throughout the world, children have always eaten beans and rice for breakfast, curried lentils and naan, chicken and vegetables, meat and potatoes. A substantial meal in the morning will meet their energy requirements.

Give nutrient-dense snacks
Provide nutrient-dense snacks such as fresh or dried fruit, nuts and seeds, raw vegetables, homemade yoghurt, dried meats, raw cheese and hard-boiled eggs. Limit these to two small snacks a day so they don’t lose their appetite for main meals.

Don’t make an issue
Remain neutral. Don’t threaten, nag, coerce, punish or reward. Select what food your children should eat. Then let them select how much to eat. If they refuse to eat, excuse them – at breakfast their appetites will be much bigger.

Up your game in the kitchen
If you want children to eat you have to be creative. For example, if introducing spinach, try offering creamed spinach, spinach blended into a fruit smoothie, or pureed into an omelette to make green eggs. You may have to introduce a food up to ten times for them to accept it. Let them ‘eat a rainbow’ – a colourful variety makes for an enticing plate with greater nutritional benefits.