Simple tips and tricks to get your kids eating better.
One question that I am faced with again and again with my clients is ‘how do I get my kids to eat healthier’? This can sometimes be a bit of a minefield as each individual case is different and often tactics have to be tailored to the situation presenting itself. That being said, there are a few tips and tricks that have consistently been successful for my clients.
Ok, this may seem like a bit of a ‘no shock Sherlock’ moment, but this can be a huge lever in helping children overcome resistance to some foods and getting them to be more adventurous. When they are actually in the kitchen with you and engaged in the process of preparing a meal, they get a greater emotional investment and attachment to the meal being created. If they are allowed some input into what is being prepared, this can often break down resistance. Their emotional investment creates a sense of excitement about trying their handy work. If you want your children eating healthier and trying new things, let them be sous chef.
When it comes to flavours that is. One of the easiest ways to break barriers and to get children eating healthier food is to place new or problematic foods with foods or flavours that your child is happy to eat and thoroughly enjoys. This has been tested in several models, with similar outcomes. Children were often willing to try something new when coupled with something familiar. A study by Pliner & Stallberg-White (2000; 95-103) used chips and dips. They found that children who were presented with new dips alongside dips they were familiar with, were more willing to try the new dip in comparison to those who were presented with the new dip alone.
Im not into the idea of just ‘hiding’ foods in Children’s meals with no outcome in mind other than to get the food in them. This doesn’t develop good relationships with food and a broad pallet. However, a bit of hoodwinking to overcome resistance can sometimes work well if the deception is revealed with positive associations. Here’s an example. Whilst filming Eat Shop Save for ITV, we worked with a great young lady named Fallon. Her mum was trying to get her to eat more vegetables often to no avail. She was a fussy eater with a limited scope of what she would eat. Like many fussy eaters she had built up resistance to foods based upon her previous experiences of the ways in which certain foods taste and the texture that they have. THIS is where the opportunity is. Completely breaking down that fixed association. So in the case of Fallon, her mum told me that she was keen on a chicken curry. I set about creating a version of something that she would happily eat, with a twist. To make the base of the curry sauce, I used sweet potatoes, garlic and onions, all pureed up with vegetable stock like a thick soup. To this I added curry spices – cumin, turmeric, coriander etc. I cooked diced chicken in this sauce base and voila…..chicken curry. It had the look, taste, smell, and texture of something similar to a korma. Fallon ate it and really enjoyed it. Afterwards we were able to have the conversation that she had been eating sweet potato and that by changing the way we use it she could enjoy it. What did this cement for her – that you can try new things and still enjoy your food by preparing it according to your tastes. She went on to try more and more as the show progressed. So creativity is a big key. Work with what they like and show them that there are a million and one ways to use good foods. Eating healthy food doesn’t need to be a miserable process.
This is a big one and another one that should be obvious…..but I have seen all sorts. Be a positive role model. Study after study have show that how you eat will have an enormous impact upon how your child eats. One experimental study for example showed that parents who also increased their fruit and vegetable intake fared far better in getting their children to be more adventurous and to also increase their intake (Haire-Joshu et al 2008: 77-78). Other studies showed that resistant eaters will be more likely to try a new food if they see an adult eating it (Addessi et al 2005: 264-271). Im not going to finger wag or tell you what to do, but this is an important consideration, plus the benefits to your own health are obvious too.
Finally, just keep at it. Keep being creative and keep trying. However, never make this a negative experience. When it turns into a fight or a battle ground, this is when things can really take an ugly turn for the worst and disordered eating can arise. Keep it light. Keep it positive, and fun. The more something is turned into a source of joy, the greater its appeal. The more something becomes a source of pain and discomfort, the more it is avoided.
Addessi E, Galloway AT, Visalberghi E, and Birch LL. 2005. Specific social influences on the acceptance of novel foods in 2-5-year-old children. Appetite. 45(3):264-71.
Haire-Joshu D, Elliott MB, Caito NM, Hessler K, Nanney MS, Hale N, Boehmer TK, Kreuter M, and Brownson RC. 2008. High 5 for Kids: the impact of a home visiting program on fruit and vegetable intake of parents and their preschool children. Prev Med. 47(1):77-8.
Pliner P and Stallberg-White C. 2000. “Pass the ketchup, please”: familiar flavors increase children’s willingness to taste novel foods. Appetite. 34(1):95-103.