Education in healthy nutrition starts at home well before school age. To cook, to grow vegetables and herbs, to learn how to eat healthy foods, are all home activities. It is important to help your children discover different types of food and, particularly, how to eat them in a balanced way.
In this short guide I will give you lots of advice to help you to get your children used to a healthy eating style, in particular, to consume fruit, vegetables, legumes and wholegrain cereals. First of all, here are some rules to prepare a balanced meal:
- Fruit and vegetables should never be missing on your table and should be as varied as possible, taking into consideration you children’s preferences.
- Try to prepare dishes based on different kinds of cereal grains, not only wheat and rice, but also barley, oatmeal, spelt and maybe also some so-called “pseudo-cereals” like buckwheat, millet and quinoa, in order to take advantage of the different nutrient composition of each one.
- Fish should be included in the menu on a weekly basis.
- Pulse consumption is important, since pulses provide proteins and are fibre-rich foods.
- The consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables is recommended, particularly those from the present season which are more nutrient-rich.
Children’s food portions
The following table summarises some adequate food portions for both pre-schoolers and primary school children. The weights refer to the raw food, net of waste.
|Pre-schoolers(g)||Primary school children (g)|
|Pasta or rice||60||70|
|Pasta, rice, spelt, quinoa, etc. (soup)||30||40|
|Ravioli or tortellini||70||90|
|Dumplings or gnocchi||100||100|
|Eggs||One||One/One and a half|
|Fruit, vegetables, potatoes and pulses|
|Tomatoes, carrots, runner beans, fennel, squash, etc.||100||150|
|Fruit, fresh, cooked, as smoothies or squeezed||150||150|
How to help your children eat healthy
Here are some ideas to get your children used to healthy foods:
- Shop for food together with your children and let them choose the kind of fruit, vegetables, legumes, etc. they want to buy. A good idea is to let them decide what they want to buy based on the colours.
- Get your children involved in the preparation of the meals: buy them a nice apron and a chef’s hat to make it more fun.
- Lay the table together with your children, adding place cards and other decorations that you have prepared together with them beforehand.
- Every now and then, buy something different together with your children. Go to a farmers’ market or take the opportunity for a short trip directly to a farm, so that the new food will be connected to a special memory and this will stimulate in your child the curiosity to try it. Possible foods that you can purchase include some particular types of pulses that your child has never tried before (e.g. chickling, red lentils, etc.) or some grains that you have not used before at home (spelt, quinoa, etc.) or also some kind of fruit and vegetables that you have not bought before or finally some good cheese and yogurt. Once at home cook the new food together with your child.
- Try not to make all this seems like an imposition, when you propose new foods to your child, do it in the most natural way. Behave so that you will stimulate your child’s curiosity without forcing him/her to eat something (e.g. do not say “And now, the two of us will cook together and eat this good food!”, whereas start by describing a new dish that you want to prepare and involve your child by asking him/her to pass the cooking utensils, or to stir and taste the dish that is being prepared).
In the next post about children and healthy food I will write how games are another strategy that can be used to teach children to eat healthy food. Stay tuned and feel free to contact me in case you need some advice about children’s nutrition.