Parents are often interested in what I feed my three kids and whether they are “good eaters”. In reality, I’m just like most parents of young children: time poor, exhausted and just trying to put food on the table. My kids aren’t any different either. Yes, they’re “picky” and rarely do they eat the exact same way each day, or will eat more on some days than others.

As frustrating as this may be, helping children develop a love for what’s healthy can be a challenge. With the hectic pace of many family households, it can much easier to tolerate less desirable eating habits if it means less mealtime mayhem. Cave into this scenario often enough, children may start to believe it’s perfectly acceptable to live on nuggets, mac and cheese and tomato sauce for most meals.

The best thing parents can do is offer a wide range of foods from the five food groups.

Likewise with adults, nutrition for kids is based on the same principles – consuming fruits, vegetables/legumes, protein, wholegrains and dairy products (or dairy alternatives). Adequate nutrition of school-aged children will also ensure they grow and develop and not compromise their potential to benefit from learning. This involves eating three meals a day and two-three nutritious snacks, as well as limiting the intake of high sugar and high fat foods.

SAMPLE KID’S MEAL PLAN

Breakfast

1-2 high-fibre biscuits or

½ cup cooked porridge with 1 cup milk.

Mid-morning snack

1 banana

3 wholegrain crispbread with 1 tb nut butter or cream cheese.

Lunch

Egg or chicken and salad wrap

1 small whole grain wrap, 1 boiled egg, 1 cup mixed salad.

See more lunch box tips here

Afternoon snack

Vegetable sticks (capsicum, cucumber, carrot) with creamy corn tuna dip or hummus.

Dinner

Lamb or kofta with couscous and vegetables

65g cooked lean beef, ½ cup cooked couscous/rice or 1 cup roasted sweet potato with 1⁄2 cup cooked carrot, 1⁄2 cup cooked beans/lentils.

Evening snack

Yoghurt and fruit salad

½ cup plain yoghurt and 1 cup mixed fruit

Smart snacking tips:

Snacks can provide up to one third of children’s energy and nutrient requirements and also help to fill in certain nutrient gaps left by meals.

Children have small appetites and fill up easily, so what they snack on makes up a valuable part of their daily nutritional requirement.

Meal timing is key. In order to help children learn that there is a time to eat and a time not to, it’s important to allow enough time for them to actually feel hungry. Aim to leave at least two hours in between eating occasions, especially dinner. So have an afternoon snack no later than 3pm if dinner is served at 5pm.

Allow some indulgences. Teaching children about healthy eating is also about teaching balance. So be flexible and agree to include a treat from time to time, as long as that goodie is eaten along with a balanced meal. Rather than label food “good” or “bad”, refer to it as “sometimes” and “everyday”.

This post was originally published on Kidspot and republished with their permission.

Related post: Handy Hacks to overcome the breakfast battle

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