Sometimes getting your children to eat more plants can seem like an uphill battle. Ads for processed foods are everywhere, and they’re often promoted by your children’s favorite role models. It’s no wonder obesity and childhood diabetes are so prevalent.
But fear not, as I’m here to give you a few strategies to help get more fruits and veggies into your children’s lives, and put them on the path to lasting wellness.
1. Set an example.
You have to practice what you preach. Eat a diet that’s made predominantly of nutrient-dense, plant-based foods. Veggies, fruits, legumes, whole-grains, nuts and seeds.
There’s no point in telling your children to eat healthily while you’re sneaking cheeseburgers and fries on the side. Kids see through that. Instead, lead by example. Inspire them to follow in your footsteps. Believe it or not, you're probably the biggest role model in your child’s life. Use that to their advantage.
2. Talk to them.
Communication is key. Talk to your children. It may sound silly, but it works. Explain why it’s important to eat lots of plants. Explain that fruits and vegetables prevent you from becoming sick, help you grow stronger and make your brain work better.
Explain the consequences of eating unhealthy foods: they cause disease and make you overweight. Give them the facts, plain and simple.
3. Don’t set definite rules.
Yes, we’re responsible for guiding our children and giving them the best possible advice. But there’s a fine line between looking out for them and forcing them to do something that you want them to do.
If you put a strict ban on certain foods, you’re setting the stage for rebellion later in life. We see it again and again. The kid who wasn’t allowed chocolate becomes a chocoholic.
Instead, allow the children to make their own choices. If they eat unhealthy food at a birthday party, explain to them why it’s not great for them. Ask them how they feel — more than likely not so good after the sugar rush has worn off.
Sometimes in life, it’s good to learn from your own mistakes …
4. Get the children involved.
Give the children a sense of responsibility and make them feel valued. Provide a range of healthy meal options, and allow them to choose which one they would like. Then involve them in shopping for the ingredients and preparing the food.
Not only will they learn vital skills that will enable them to look after themselves properly, they'll likely feel pride in producing their own meal, and will be more likely to eat it.
5. Grow your own.
Growing your own produce can help the children understand where it comes from and help them form a better relationship with food, even if it’s just a few plants out the back garden.
So often we’re completely disconnected from what we eat, and how it gets to our plates. In supermarkets, meat is stored in clean plastic wrapping, and vegetables are scrubbed so we don’t see any dirt.
If they understand where their food comes from, children often form a better relationship with it, and appreciate it more.
6. Make great-tasting food.
From an early age, kids often believe that healthy food always tastes bad. But it really doesn’t have to be that way, and it’s your responsibility to make it otherwise.
Smoothies are a great way to start the day. Try blending a few bananas with some dates, kale, broccoli, spinach, ice and a handful of nuts and seeds.
Juices can also be good too, although I tend to lean more toward juicing vegetables rather than large amounts of fruit.
You can easily make healthy school lunchboxes, with salad and beans in a wholemeal wrap and plenty of fruit for dessert. Use natural spices and herbs to flavor foods, rather than salt, oils and sugar.
7. Add salads to everything.
Make big salads or cooked green vegetables the main part of each meal. Kale, romaine, spinach and spring greens are packed with nutrients, protein, fiber, essential fatty acids and are low in calories.
They can be delicious too. Add in berries, apples grapes, grated carrot, beetroot, or make healthy dressings by blending berries and nuts.
8. Sit down as a family.
Having family meal times at the table is much more health promoting than eating on the run, or in front of the TV. It gives the children a real chance to focus on what they’re eating. They can take in all the different flavors, and be mindful of their food.