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Tuesday, 12 July 2011

How to help our children be slim and healthy?

Toddlers are like mini-teenagers. They want their independence and fight for it. They don't want to be treated like babies and it is often the start of a war over food with parents with huge control battles from both parts. This is where parents have to act like adults and not make it a battle of wills. Let your toddler lead the way but offer healthy options. If they don't like broccoli today, they might like it in a few days time. Keep offering. And even if you, as you read this blog, realize that your food options are not that good, it's OK, you can change things.

I had not much understanding about feeding myself and my children to start with but learning along the way is perfectly possible. And even thought your kids might complain at first if you change the way you eat and offer them different options, they will get used to it. Remember that with little ones, you have to constantly offer new things. But please remember that you have to offer something new probably ten times before you are sure they are not going to like it. It could be that they hate grated carrots but they love them steamed or pan fried in a little butter. And they will suddenly go off their favourite foods all of a sudden. Think of it this way, our bodies know what we need at any point in time in terms of food and that is why we have likes and dislikes that evolve over time. The more I have learnt about nutrition the more it has confirmed that my body intuitively knows exactly what it needs to eat. If I crave for certain foods, a bit of research will always  show that that particular food contained something I was missing. We tend to notice this in pregnancy, but it actually happens all the time. Your children's bodies know what food they need or at least know what they don't need.

Use food as close as possible to what nature has intended. And if you have to use cheats, always prefer using frozen foods and canned foods over processed foods. Make soups and ask your children to help you cut and prepare the vegetables. Invest in a good blender to smooth the soups to your children's liking. This way instead of feeling that you are slaving away in the kitchen it can become a new activity for you and your children. I used to think of cooking as a chore until someone told me: "Since you have to do it anyway, why not enjoy it and even possibly make it a meditation practice". Don't only involve your children to make cakes. Involve them to make salads (and no salads are not only green leaves), pies, soups and more. My youngest boy started helping me cutting the vegetables in the kitchen when he was just under three years old. He was so proud of being able to help.

If they see you eating it, they will want it. There are two things that can help. One is to eat with them as much as possible. Family dinners are unique in creating love around food. You probably eat less because you talk laugh and interact more. Don't make it a war over manners though (at least not when they are small - always remember to request things of them that they are capable of doing for their developmental age). The second is to eat what you want them to eat, but always keep it tasty. It doesn't take a chef to make good food. Even a jacket potato with melted butter (organic preferably) and a serving of vegetables is better than a pizza from the supermarket. Now if you want to make the pizza yourself, that can be a healthy option. I would suggest you use wholemeal flour.

I have gradually replaced all white bread with wholemeal bread and even thought the children complained about it, they have learnt to love it all the same. It doesn't mean we never eat white bread, it just means it is not part of our staple food. We have also replaced sugar by more healthy options such as agave syrup, maple syrup, honey (but not under two years old) etc or even molasses. If nothing else, toddlers love fruit. Fresh fruits.

What it does mean, however is a bit of planning and to let go of the dream that food shopping is only going to happen once a week. The reason for this is that if the food you buy keeps for a week or over, then it probably has very little in terms of nutrients. And even vegetables need to be bought and eaten as fresh as possible. What you could opt for, and which makes it so simple that you no longer have any excuses is to subscribe to a VegBox scheme. Your local farmers will deliver to your door, the vegetables and fruits in season and if they are customer friendly, the box will come with the recipes. In addition to that, when you eat the vegetables that are in season where you live you will get the nutrients that are right for the season you are going through (salads are not as good in winter where you need warm foods with complex carbohydrates to fight off that cold). I have to admit still having some progress to do in this respect as I am not always aware of what season is good for what vegetable and fruit. Take it step by step. As with all change, baby steps led to a better progress than trying to change it all in one go. What matters is to head in the right direction.

I used to find it really intimidating to cook new foods. But now, I take it as an adventure in my own kitchen. I actually force myself to try a new recipe per fortnight. It's actually important in many ways. First of all it introduces diversity. And for the cook sometimes the worse is repetition and boredom. If you make a mess of your food, you can laugh about it and perhaps think of an alternative plan: I love soft boiled eggs with soldiers (toast with butter cut in strips) as a plan B. I have found however that I have very rarely failed at a new recipe and it has built my confidence. And all it is is confidence. We are afraid of change because we don't know how well we do but once we have done it, what a feeling of satisfaction and we often wonder why we waited so long.

With little children, I find that finger food often is a great winner. And if the food is raw and brightly coloured, even better. Please avoid crisps, chocolate bars, fizzy drinks and squashes that are full of not only additives but added sugars and salt which are both addictive and which give no nutrients to your children. The way I manage it with my own children is to have some in the house BUT they are only eaten on week-ends. I would rather do without them all together but I will let you onto a little secret (well not really a secret but a fact that most people overlook): what is forbidden always sounds better than it is. If you forbid crisps, your children might become obsessed about them. They will scoff them down when they are at friends or perhaps at their grand parents (yes, you can't control all the aspects of their lives even if you would like to) and perhaps out of defiance when they turn teenagers they might eat only that just to roll you up.

If there is one rule that I think goes a long way to help eat healthy is to keep it varied as much as possible. And it means you will have to constantly find new ideas on how to feed your kids as they will invariably change their likes and dislikes. I remember at one point being almost discouraged because my kids always seem to like different things and as soon as one had begun to like something the other would stop liking it.

At one point, we had a family committee and I told them that they could not always eat what they liked best and that they had to take turns. We would do a rota of each child's favourite foods so that they each got a turn at eating what they like best but compromised for other meals and agreed to eat even if it wasn't their favourite.

There will be a period of time, however, where they will want one thing and nothing else. Don't worry about it. It's best to let them lead the way rather than want to have a perfectly nutritious meal. It's not worth the battle, especially with toddlers. They will grow out of it. You are building a long term strategy of healthy eating and sometimes you have to give into the short term goals to earn your children's trust and love. And no nutrition will ever replace that. And if you offer healthy snacks on the side, then they will be fine. Ideas of healthy snacks are fresh cut up fruit (you can prepare a batch in advance and make it a family bonding time), bits of raw vegetables such as cucumber, bell peppers (we prefer red, orange and yellow ones over green ones), sticks of celery, cottage cheese with crackers, dried fruits, nuts (consider allergies and age appropriateness and never let your child eat them without supervision - and take a good first aid course to know what to do in case of choking but don't let the fear of them choking prevent them from exploring food options)... bits of cheese in cubes. All these are better options than crisps, cakes, biscuits and chocolate bars. And do try to give the taste of dark chocolate to your children. Dark chocolate actually has nutrients that are good in it and is not pumped up with sugar and powdered cow's milk so it has as little nasties as possible.

And as they grow up, make THEM responsible for making sure they get all the nutrition that they need. Print a copy of the healthy plate and put them in charge of making sure they get the balance right. I find that with my teenagers, it works wonders.

Blessings of lightness

Anges de Lumiere

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