We asked nutritionist and food stylist Amie Harper – @amieeats on Instagram – to share her top tip for encouraging kids to eat a healthy, balanced diet. And it’s a lot simpler than you think…
It’s one of the fundamental principles of nutrition and, as a parent, you can encourage your kids to eat healthy for life with this one simple philosophy – by offering visually stimulating foods or, put simply, encouraging your kids to “Eat a Rainbow” when it comes to fruits and vegetables.
By encouraging a plethora of colour and variety in your children’s diet, you can easily develop healthy eating habits and a good understanding of food in your children that they will carry with them for life.
“But my children don’t like fruits and vegetables,” you say.
Just keep offering, offering and offering again, and don’t get disheartened after one or two or even three failed attempts! Continuing to expose your children to a variety of wholefoods – whether they initially eat them or not – will help to pique their interest in food and encourage them to become more adventurous eaters.
But that’s not all – serving them a variety of textures will also stimulate them intellectually (through tactile learning as they touch and feel these new, unfamiliar foods) and physically (by encouraging mouth, jaw and tongue muscle development, which will assist their speech).
All of these incredible things are happening simply by serving up good, homemade food.
AMIE’S TIPS TO ENCOURAGE GOOD EATERS
Firstly, get creative and adventurous – regularly, not just sometimes! There are thousands of creative ways to cook with different fruits and vegetables on the internet, all just a few taps away.
Also, make sure you get the children involved with ingredient selection and meal preparation. My kids, Pip and Jim, love helping me shop, selecting different ingredients, and preparing meals. Pipi is a whizz at scrambled eggs (we make mini wrap scrambled eggs for our lunch boxes) and our traditional Saturday morning “pancakes,” (which we often make into crepes and roll up and pop into the lunchbox). Recently she told my husband (and me!) to move over and showed us how it’s done!
Not only are we helping them develop a good appreciation for different wholefoods – while they help us in the kitchen in return! – but we are also sharing one of the most basic skills that will serve them both for life: how to cook and look after themselves long after they’ve flown the nest. It’s our responsibility as parents to give our kids the best possible start to life, and instil confidence, and a positive love for food and cooking.
And we can do it all by simply eating the rainbow!
LUNCH BOX TIPS
1. Purchase colourful, seasonal vegetables and fruits you wouldn’t normally try, or get the kids to help pick the wholefoods. Then, get them involved in the lunchbox creation and let them own the process from start to finish. This allows them to connect with the process of making their own food and engage with you as parents, and it also gives them a sense of independence. Winner!
2. Start collecting cookie cutters, cute cutlery, lunchboxes or meal trays, and any other quirky food cues that will encourage your child to be more engaged in the idea of the lunchbox style of eating.
3. Turn leftovers into a snack or meal – leftover risotto makes great mini rice cakes when fried in a little extra virgin olive oil!
4. Don’t over think it! Fruits and veg are a fine snack to serve on their own, but you can easily mix things up with various cutting styles, cookie cutters, cupcake wrappers… you don’t have to spend a fortune on so called “trendy” foods to make fancy snacks!
5. Pack for yourself and hubby too. It makes you really think about what you’re putting in their lunchboxes when you have to eat it as well! Who wants vegemite sangas for 5 days straight? Not me!
6. Make the pieces in the lunchbox small and easy to eat. Kids are busy, and they often won’t eat because “they don’t have time!”. If you create mini morsels that tiny pincers can easily grab and chew and swallow, then you’re more likely to open an empty lunchbox at the end of the school day.
7. Collect fun recipes and cookbooks! Some of our favourite recipes from my own books – which you can find here – are: the many different choices for mini vegetable style fritters; the Ragu made into pastry scrolls, meat pies or sausage rolls; the dips for dunking vegetables in, or slathering on a mini wrap with chicken or eggs; or the carrot cake, which is our go-to cake that we adapt for all occasions.
8. Fill it up! The more colour in their lunchbox, the better! And, make sure you add some crunch – the more textures the better, too.
9. Make sure your child can enjoy the lunchbox packing process with you on at least some of days through the week. It’s hard to do every day (believe me, I know) but as long as you keep them involved, you’ll be doing them a world of good.
10. Most importantly… have fun doing it! If your kids see that you love trying new things, that will be even more encouragement for them to do the same.
Amy studied food science and nutrition at RMIT in Melbourne, and loved the home economics part to the course – cooking and food presentation has always been her thing. Amie loves making food special (you can often find her moulding a simple fried rice into the shape of Miffy, or cutting sandwiches made into loves hearts) and finds that her kids seem to be more engaged and enjoy eating when she makes the extra effort – at least, most of the time!