How to teach kids good nutritional habits from a young age

“When it comes to teaching our children about nutrition, it comes down to a healthy dose of common sense, convenient access to a variety of food options (snacks and treats too), and cooking as a family in the kitchen” – Tracey Rowles, Marketing Strategy Manager at Tiger Brands and an Eat Well Live Well (EWLW) ambassador.

Start early!

Children from as young as four can learn to differentiate the food groups (carbohydrates, proteins and fats). We should ideally start teaching our children about nutrition, health and balanced eating behaviours from preschool to lay the foundation for their formal schooling. In fact, it would be ideal if schools had a subject where learners are educated about good nutrition just as they are educated in physical education, biology or math. I remember watching a Jamie Oliver documentary and he asked kids in the UK to identify different vegetables and they couldn’t recognise the vegetables in their raw form, too used to veggie nuggets or vegetables being hidden in food. Then he quizzed children from France and they knew the name of every veg, even aubergine!

Children need to be exposed to different foods from a young age – particularly fruit and vegetables – that are prepared in various ways to help expand the repertoire of the foods they eat. Don’t despair if your child doesn’t eat a certain food the first or second time they encounter it. Sometimes they might only start to eat it after they come across it the tenth time. It’s about trying different approaches and recipes at different times and not overreacting when they do not eat it. Simply put it on their plate, don’t draw any attention to it and let them try it. Children are also more willing to try food that they helped to prepare in the kitchen. It’s that sense of pride that prompts them to eat (or at least try) the food that they prepared with their own hands.

Everything in moderation

To help children understand the importance of a balanced diet, don’t forbid snacks and treats, as this might cause your children to binge eat them. Instead, allow them to eat these foods in small portions from time to time. When you empower children – or anyone for that matter – with knowledge about nutrition, they have a much greater willingness to make and stick to healthy food choices and eating behaviours, as these are driven by understanding, and not simply because they have been told to do so. More often than not, a knowledge shift and a better understanding of the role that nutrition plays in our health and wellbeing results in a behaviour shift.

5 balanced snacking ideas for kids:
1. Homemade pantry treat switch up

Create a homemade trail mix that contains a number of different snacks and treats packaged into small resealable bags or containers. These should include a variety of foods from different food groups, such as: lean biltong, popcorn, dried fruit, assorted nuts, dried apple rings, a high-fibre cracker or two, and perhaps a sweet treat like a single portion of jelly tots, fruit gums or mini chocolate bars. Store these in your pantry or cupboard and offer your child a variety of options when they ask for a treat, so that sweets and treats don’t become forbidden foods.

2. Rainbow fun plate

Use a plate or a cheese board to make a rainbow-coloured, child-friendly snack board. Cut a selection of colourful fruit and vegetables into bite sizes, alongside a few other foods from various food groups. These may include: mini meatballs, sliced grilled chicken breast, fish fingers, tuna tartlets, cheese cubes, boiled baby potatoes, high-fibre crackers, nuts and dried fruit.

3. Apples dipped in homemade peanut butter sauce

Cut an apple into slices or quarters, depending on your child’s age or preference, and serve it with a homemade peanut butter sauce. Add a tablespoon or two of hot water to 2 teaspoons of no-salt, no-sugar peanut butter to make the texture creamier and more sauce-like. Dip the sliced apple into the peanut butter sauce. Another alternative is to spread a little no-salt, no-sugar peanut butter onto sliced apple disks and sprinkle them with a little raw oats and a single block of grated dark chocolate.

4. Crunchy homemade pasta chips with homemade sauces and dips

Cook high-fibre pasta al dente – it should contain at least 6g of fibre for every 100g serving to be considered high fibre. Drain it, drizzle it with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and toss it so that it is evenly coated. Sprinkle it with some of your child’s favourite dried herbs, such as: oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, garlic salt, a herb mix, or cayenne pepper/chili flakes for a bit of a kick. Bake them in the oven or air fryer until crispy, tossing them to ensure they are evenly cooked.

Serve these high-fibre pasta chips with a homemade sauce or dip. Try some of these: 

  • Low-fat smooth cottage cheese mixed in equal parts with lite mayonnaise;
  • Homemade guacamole; 
  • Homemade hummus made from blended or mashed up canned chickpeas with a teaspoon of no-salt, no-sugar peanut butter (instead of tahini); 
  • Cooked tinned tomatoes that have been reduced and sprinkle with dried herbs (you can add a teaspoon of sugar if they are too acidic).
5. Hot or cold: Apples or pears

For the perfect winter dessert use fruit canned in their own juice or low-sugar syrup. Drain canned apple or pear halves and heat them in the microwave until hot. Top the warm fruit with a tablespoon of plain full-fat yoghurt and sprinkle with cinnamon. 

In the summertime, blend apple and pear halves and freeze them in popsicle form overnight to make a delicious homemade, low-sugar sorbet alternative.

Common Nutrition Misconception

Fruit juice is often equivalent to drinking a soft drink, if not worse, because the juice contains no fibre matrix when the pulp that’s naturally found in the fruit has been removed. At the same time, it contains fructose (a fruit sugar) which floods the liver and increases triglycerides (a type of fat) production.

Tip: A single serving of fruit juice is 125ml (½ a cup). Dilute juice 50-50 with water or use low-calorie, low-sugar squashes in moderation. It is best to teach children to drink water when they are thirsty by modelling this behaviour as a parent.

Here are a few fun recipes to try for the kids. You will find more recipes on www.ewlw.co.za/recipes

Peas and Pesto High Fibre Pasta

Serves: 4

Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

2 079 KJ/per single portion

Ingredients

400g Fatti’s & Moni’s High Fibre Screws

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 jar (140g) homemade or store-bought basil pesto

1 tin (410g) Koo Fresh Garden Peas in brine, drained and rinsed

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Method

1. Cook pasta according to package instructions.

2. Drain pasta, keep aside some of the pasta water.

3. Heat the vegetable oil in a pan and add the pasta, basil pesto and peas.

4. Toss everything together to coat pasta well and heat through.

5. Add some of the remaining pasta water, if you need to thin out the sauce.

6. Taste and season lightly with salt and black pepper, if needed.

7. Serve while warm.


Fruit Cocktail No-Bake Mini Cheesecakes

Makes: 12

Preparation Time: 25 minutes and 3-4 hours setting time

Cooking Time: None

1 056 KJ/per single portion

Ingredients – For the base

½ cup unsalted almonds (or pecan nuts)

½ cup Jungle Instant Oats Original

4 dates, pitted

½ tsp vanilla essence

⅓ cup of boiling water

Spray n’ Cook

Pinch of salt

Ingredients – For the cheesecake

460g low-fat smooth cream cheese

1 tin (385g) of condensed milk

2 Tbsps. fruit juice from 1 tin (410g) Koo Fruit Cocktail in Fruit Juice Lite (use the fruit to garnish)

To garnish

1 tin (410g) Koo Fruit Cocktail in Fruit Juice Lite, just the fruit

Method – Base

1. Grease a muffin tray with Spray n’ Cook.

2. Place dates in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 5 minutes, until just covered.

3. Add the nuts, oats, dates and water from the dates, vanilla essence and salt into a blender and blend until sticky and crumbly.

4. Divide the mixture equally between the 12 cups in the muffin tray (approximately 1 tablespoon each).

5. Press the mixture down using the back of a spoon or a small glass, to make a firm base.

6. Chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Method – Filling

1. Place all the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

2. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the cheesecake mixture over the chilled bases.

3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours before serving.

4. Serve chilled and garnished with the drained fruit pieces.

Be warned that these cheesecakes are ridiculously delicious and addictive but they’re so easy to make that you can whip them up every week!


This post has been sponsored by Tigerbrands Eat Well Live Well

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