Monday, February 6, 2012

Getting children to eat fruit and vegetables.

Most parents wonder how to give their children a healthy diet, how to make them eat fruit and vegetables and how to reduce the amount of cake, crisps and biscuits that they eat. Well, help is at hand. Recent studies by City University and the School Food Trust has found that cooking clubs and classes has a positive effect on children's eating habits. They found that more children ate fruit and vegetables after the classes and were able to recognise healthy food.

Given the growing epidemic of childhood obesity this is fantastic news. Getting children involved in cooking is a 'fablious' idea, as my 3 year old son says. The up sides are huge, learning what goes into food, how long it takes to prepare, giving them skills for later life (not just being able to cook but impressing the fairer sex according to my husband who claims I fell for him thanks to his amazing risotto.) Let's not mention the mess and the amount of extra time needed! When they're old enough, they might even cook the meal by themselves.

From a personal point of view, I find that my children are much more likely to eat something new if they've helped make it. I use the word 'helped' in the loosest sense. My 3 year old 'helped' me to cook mussels the other day. I de-bearded them, passed them to him, he dabbed a few of them with a sponge and put them into a colander. Anyhow, he ate the mussels and was very proud to have helped. A few weeks later I cooked mussels again, this time he was watching tele. He wouldn't touch them. Yuk yuk, I'm not eating those! This 'helping' tactic has also worked with curry and other new and unknown foods. 

In my clinics, I often recommend that children get involved with cooking, especially those who are slightly over weight and constipated (a frequent flyer in many paediatric clinics.) Many parents try to hide vegetables in dishes and this is certainly one way of getting children to eat vegetables in the short term. But I wonder whether it is a good tactic for the long term, when the child is able to decide themselves what they want to eat (which happens very quickly). If they are used to eating fruit and vegetables they will often opt to have a healthy piece of fruit as a snack instead of a piece of cake or a biscuit. (Not all the time I grant you.) I leave bowls of fruit on the kitchen table and both my 1 and 3 year old will help themselves to it. "Norange, norange" grunts my 1 year old.

Feeding children, of what ever age is not easy. Just when you think you've got it nailed, your perfect eater turns into a fussy eater overnight. They don't have to have a perfect diet. Cakes, biscuits and other treats are fine in small quantities. However, it is important that they eat fruit and vegetables, not just today but as they grow and continue into adulthood. If you're having problems getting your child to eat healthily it may feel like a steep slope to climb, but take it one step at a time. Get them involved, don't loose heart and keep presenting them with healthy options.

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