More carrots, fewer chips – easier said than done. Here are some ideas to follow up to encourage little ones to eat better with Herveline Giraudeau, a psychologist and co-author of J’évite le burn-out en cuisine [avoiding cook’s burnout].
Cooking meals for the whole family is a right headache that gets perilously close to increasing the mental load… Only, as all the experts will tell you, when it comes to diet (and parenting too, by the way), actions speak louder than words. So like the superparent that you are, put on your chef’s hat to show the family how good healthy eating can be.
In the words of the co-author of J’arrête le burn-out en cuisine (Ed. Eyrolles, available only in French), Herveline Giraudeau, “The most important thing is avoiding power struggles with your children. If one of them turns their nose up at their vegetables, you have to take a step back and hold on to the idea that our tastes change over time.” And most importantly, stresses the psychologist, avoid at all costs that old chestnut “a spoonful to please Mummy (or Daddy)” which more than anything is liable to create an unhealthy relationship with food. Also, don’t forget that making your child clear their plate is a common mistake. It pushes little ones to get cut off from those fundamental hunger and satiety signals… So it’s to be avoided at all costs, otherwise you’re liable to see your child yo-yo dieting in their teenage years!
So do get them to taste everything, but don’t make them clear their plate. It’s also good to learn to eat the right amount so as not to overstep one’s limits. And don’t make them go without dessert, either! Coming back to the thorny issue of vegetables, don’t forget that there are a great many different varieties. So make up a game with your child. When each new season rolls around, make a list of the vegetables that they like and those that they are going to try (of their own free will). To do so there are a great many seasonal vegetable calendars on the Internet, that you can post up on your fridge door. “Choosing from the list of child-friendly vegetables is an easier way of getting more vegetables into the diet”, points out the psychologist and author of the French activist blog “Sortez de vos conapts”. Lastly, don’t forget to use various different cooking methods, too. Salad endives have a completely different taste (and bitterness) to cooked ones… The same goes for spinach and cauliflower. Sure, you can sneak these much-maligned vegetables into traybakes and vegetable lasagne, but having children eat vegetables unawares is also cheating somehow… Instead, associate them with good times, like pre-dinner nibbles with friends. Serve them in the form of vegetable sticks so as to avoid the usual peanuts and high-calorie crisps (other than vegetable crisps)!
Subterfuge for balanced meals
So without cheating as such, you have to learn to use all the tricks you can to get them to eat a balanced diet. So what does the perfect meal look like? A little of something they like (pasta, rice, etc.) and a little of other foods too. Other than that, “the order depends on the child, they can eat the pasta first and the rest last, or vice versa” concludes Herveline Giraudeau. Another failsafe technique? Getting them involved. Both in meal preparation (whilst explaining why you can’t eat pasta morning, noon and night) and in stressing the importance of eating a balanced diet (proteins-carbohydrates-fat, and also fibre and vegetables) over the week (including school dinners) and mixing it up for enjoyment’s sake.
What’s the idea? Taking the time to put together the meal plan for the coming days, along with the associated jobs rota (laying / clearing the table, etc). You can also do scrapbooking – cut out photos of portions of carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables, dairy products, good fats and protein (meat, fish or eggs), and so see at a glance whether you’re eating all of these foods every day.
Some evenings if you have the time, or at the weekend, you can also ask your little kitchen helper to come and help you make dinner. This is a fun shared experience that will have them getting into Top Chef in a big way in a few years! In the meantime, we recommend getting your child a subscription to the children’s cookery magazine Carotte et chocolat. That way your little darling will get a magazine by post every month containing 15 recipes with step-by-step instructions. This month: chicken tikka, ratatouille hand pies and for dessert, banana toasted sandwiches! It’s a fun way to get into cooking!
Further ideas: if you can, plant a cottage garden or take your child to the farm regularly. Perhaps you live in the city? Then put your child in charge of watering (not drowning) aromatic herbs on the balcony, or sign both of you up to a nearby cookery workshop. Also, when your child is a little older, you can take them to an organic shop and let them loose in the aisles to put dinner together. (Staying within a reasonable budget – it’s not about feeding everyone in the apartment block!) It’s a fun way of introducing them to new tastes! And when it’s your child making the choices, it’s bound to be better!