Guest post by Aimee Claire
With the problem of childhood obesity steadily increasing it is perhaps more important than ever to introduce new tastes and textures from an early age, ensuring that a healthy diet becomes the ‘norm’ in a child’s life from the beginning.
The benefits of introducing a healthy diet from a young age are far-reaching; it can help to improve a child’s concentration span, thus helping with learning, as well as generally helping the child to thrive. A good diet can also influence a child’s resistance to certain infections and illnesses, and can eliminate, or vastly reduce, the risk of certain diseases in adult life.
Promoting healthy eating during childhood
We all need a balanced diet, incorporating each of the food groups; as they say, a little bit of everything in moderation is good. Diets rich in fruit, vegetables, and essential nutrients ensure that our bodies work properly and develop in the right way, as well as helping our brains to function to their maximum potential.
The introduction of a child to a healthy lifestyle creates numerous opportunities for learning; for example, children can assist with shopping, unpacking, and setting the table, learning all about foods, colours, shapes and numbers as they develop their fine motor skills. Trying new foods can also be a great window to new cultures; the possibilities are endless.
The best way to promote a healthy diet and lifestyle is to get children fully involved, allowing them to experience new foods with you; they will be excited to get in on the action, making them much more receptive to any hidden lessons. From creating a list and shopping, to preparation, cooking and, finally, eating; it is important to incorporate each element of planning a healthy diet into a child’s routine, encouraging them to ask questions, voice opinions or formulate their own ideas.
It is important to steer clear of using food as a reward or punishment, methods of discipline that could otherwise deplete a child’s appreciation for food. It is also a good idea to start small; the preparation of smaller dishes is a great building block, establishing certain routines from the early stages of weaning.
Accommodating children in the kitchen
The most important thing that children need when helping in the kitchen is space – and lots of it! Before starting to cook it is worth trying to clear a surface large enough for children to spread themselves out, tidying away dangerous objects so they can get stuck in. Child-friendly light switches, cupboard tidies, designated shelves and cupboards, magnetic boards for ingredients, and easy clean surfaces are all great ideas; they allow a child to feel truly involved and eliminate any worry. It is also important to ensure that a child can reach work surfaces. It may be necessary to consider lowering worktops or providing a sturdy stool.
Although children will enjoy mixing foods, measuring and (perhaps best of all) making a mess, it is a good idea to make a plan before starting to cook. This allows for prior preparation of ingredients, surfaces and equipment, and makes sure that children learn about following recipes and being responsible in the kitchen.
Once the cooking and tidying are done, there is only one thing left to do – eat! Accommodate the whole family around an extending dining table, sharing the fruits of your labours, while making mealtimes a real social occasion. This serves to bring the family together at mealtimes, establishing healthy relationships with food, and encouraging children to try something different next time. There is nothing quite like eating a meal that you have freshly prepared together!