Positive food for kids
The latest book published in the growing field of nutrition for children, Positive Food for Kids was written by Dr Jenny O’Dea, after working for twenty-five years as a nutritionist and ‘watching the eating habits of Australian and New Zealand children become worse and worse’.
Her study of 5,000 school children aged between six and eighteen years of age produced more figures to add to the growing body of information that shows many children are not eating the most basic of nutritious foods.
In the three days prior to the study:
- one in six children had no fruit or vegetables
- one in five had no fruit juice
- one in four had no cereal, pasta or rice
- one in ten had no milk or dairy food
- one in three hadn’t eaten anything at all for breakfast or had only drunk water, cordial, soft drink, tea or coffee
Dr O’Dea believes healthy eating habits can be fostered in any child. It’s a common myth that some children simply won’t eat healthy food. In this extract from her book, she details her positive approach to foods philosophy.
A positive approach
Selection of food depends on several factors, including personal likes and dislikes, beliefs and attitudes towards certain foods, childhood experiences with food and mealtimes, nutrition knowledge, economic factors and food advertising.
Physical factors other than hunger also affect what children choose to eat. The taste, colour, texture and aroma of different foods affect children and coax them to eat when they may not necessarily be hungry. For these reasons children and adults sometimes eat just for comfort, pleasure or curiosity.
Helping children to choose wisely from a healthy selection of food can be a difficult task for many parents. Try and be aware of the factors which affect your personal food habits and those of your children by asking the following questions:
- What is your child eating?
- Why is your child eating?
- Does your child eat because they are hungry, or perhaps because they are bored, lonely or unhappy?
- Is your child easily tempted to eat unnecessary foods and drinks?
- Does your child sometimes graze on food and drink all day long?
- Are mealtimes relaxed or is there constant conflict around mealtimes and eating?
- Does your child skip proper meals or constantly snack and eat on the run?
- Does your child constantly drink or sip on a bottle?
- Is food an enjoyable part of your child’s life?
When talking to the children in the study I also asked: ‘Why do you choose to eat healthy foods?’ Younger children aged 6 to 11 years answered that they deliberately chose healthy foods and drinks because they:
- give them energy and fitness
- help them grow and be strong
- make them ‘feel good on the inside’, whereas junk and snack foods made them feel ‘heavy, yucky, lazy and a bit sick on the stomach’
- help them to concentrate in school and stay awake
- keep their bodies healthy and reduce colds and other illnesses
In other words, these young children could articulate quite clearly the benefits of healthy eating.
You could try asking your children the same question: Why do you choose healthy food and drinks? What does healthy food do for your?
As parents you can use the positive benefits of healthy eating from your child’s point of view to motivate them to eat healthily.
The Positive Foods Approach – Ten Golden Rules
- You are the adult, you are the boss! Do not allow your child to dictate what is going to be eaten. You decide what is going to be eaten and your child decides how much. Let your child know that you want them to eat well because you love them and not because it’s a punishment.
- Don’t give up the first time your child says ‘I don’t like it’. What they really mean is ‘I’m a bit scared to try new things’ or ‘I can’t be bothered’. Years of research shows that offering children new food on at least ten separate occasions will work eventually.
- Regularly introduce new flavours to your child from a young age.
- Be a good role model. Eat a wide variety of foods yourself.
- Reinforce the child’s positive food behaviours. Never let a chance go by to notice your child doing something right.
- Take advantage of your child’s appetite. Deliberately develop your child’s appetite and notice how well they eat! It’s not a sin to allow your child to become hungry; in fact it helps your child ‘tune in’ to their own natural appetite.
- Keep the home eating environment emotion free. Don’t ban or force-feed certain foods because this type of parental behaviour is known to be counterproductive. Explain they can have treat foods only when their major food groups have been eaten.
- Change your food storage environment and your kitchen. Keep healthy food readily available and accessible and keep ‘treat’ food well and truly out of sight. If you allow children to get their own snacks and drinks (not recommended for under twelves) make sure they are surrounded by healthy choices.
- Stay calm, cool, collected and consistent. If you allow meal times to become a battle of wills you won’t achieve anything, so stay cool, firmly in control and don’t give in to your child’s demands or tantrums.
- Congratulate yourself when your child eats well – you really are providing them with the best start in life. They may even thank you for it when they get older.
The Importance of Breakfast
Breakfast means ‘to break the fast’ which happens while we are sleeping. Sometimes the overnight fast can be as long as fourteen hours if children go to bed early so it is really important for them to refuel in the morning.
Some children will eat the same breakfast every day so don’t worry if your child’s breakfast seems boring or monotonous – if it’s healthy it’s okay. If your child can’t manage food in the morning, a healthy drink will provide all the necessary nutrients.
For the child who does not eat breakfast, give them a healthy snack to take to school – they can ’make it up’ on the school bus or at play lunch.
A Sample Healthy Breakfast
Remember to select foods from the Five Food Groups for a balanced meal and follow the Healthy Eating Pyramid. Also, keep in mind that children don’t need very large servings of food. Some won’t finish all of the food placed in front of them, but a few bites or sips are better than none! Here are three examples of a nutritious breakfast.
- Orange juice, muesli (1/2 cup), milk
- Fruit pieces, wholemeal toast, Creamy Cottage Eggs
- Rockmelon segment, yoghurt (1/2 cup), Magic Fairy Drink (1 cup)
Fibre Rich Muesli
1 cup rolled oats
1 tablespoon unprocessed bran
2 tablespoons bran breakfast cereal
1 tablespoon wheatgerm
½ tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons skim milk powder
1 tablespoon coconut
Mix all ingredients. Store in airtight container. Serve two tablespoons with hot or cold milk. Cook over low heat with milk for a good winter breakfast.
To basic recipe (Fibre Rich Muesli) add:
1 tablespoon sultanas, chopped dates, raisins or chopped figs
1 tablespoon dried apricots (chopped)
1 tablespoon dried apple (chopped)
To basic recipe add:
2 tablespoons chopped nuts (very finely chopped, without husks, for small children)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Make up Fruity Muesli. Dry roast chopped nuts and seeks in a non-stick pan. Mix all ingredients.
Serve Muesli with:
- 2-3 tablespoons yoghurt
- sliced banana and milk
- grated apple, cinnamon and milk
- slice of rockmelon with milk or yoghurt
- mixed with stewed fruit and fruit juice
- cook with milk in winter
Creamy Cottage Eggs
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/4 cup chopped tomato
1/4 cup chopped ham
1 teaspoon margarine or butter
Mix cottage cheese and eggs in a blender or push cheese through a sieve and then mix with eggs. Add tomato and ham. Melt 1 teaspoon of margarine or butter in a saucepan and add mixture. Stir egg mixture gently with wooden spoon until it thickens. Serve on wholemeal toast with chopped parsley (serves two).
Magic Fairy Drink
300 mls milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
This was invented by my dear mother in 1959! Beat ingredients with a blender or hand egg beater. Sprinkle with nutmeg. This drink is magic because it can be served as a whole meal for children and is especially suitable for children recovering from an illness.
Positive Food For Kids by Dr Jenny O'Dea, Published by Random House Australia, rrp $34.95
Dr Jenny O’Dea is a dietician and nutritionist with over 20 years experience, lecturer in nutrition and health education at Sydney University and mother of two. Her positive approach to food addresses the challenges busy parents face in providing healthy food for their children and the psychology behind these choices. The book contains 101 healthy school lunch ideas as well as the best fast food choices!
This article was first published in Australian Family Magazine, May 2005.