Are your parents “such chörnli-pickers”? My first boyfriend asked me after eating with us for the first time at the family table.
I didn’t understand the question. What grains? There were steamed vegetables with yeast flakes.
I was taught about healthy eating from the cradle. Organic was compulsory, the microwave oven was the bête noire and a spoonful of almond puree for dessert was the ultimate thrill. Even though I sometimes thought being a chörnli picker was uncool, I am happy with the healthy and conscious food culture that shaped me.
Children mindlessly register the eating behaviour they are shown as ‘natural’. If, as parents, we eat healthy, balanced and, at best, enjoyable food, we are helping our children to develop healthy eating behaviour too.
Bam! An extra burden on our shoulders as parents.
Don’t worry, I too have had those Thursday mornings when, at 11.45am, I am shocked to find that three hungry children will be bursting into the flat in a few minutes and I haven’t even had time to clear the breakfast table. I, too, am robbed of the last spark of pleasure in cooking by nagging children. I know that sometimes even fast food isn’t fast enough, especially with small children.
Now, setting an example of healthy eating behaviour – You Dreamer, you!
The good news is that in our house too, there were days when we were home alone with Dad. Hawaiian toast. Every time! We loved them. Daddy did too. After all, healthy eating habits can also include unhealthy foods.
Our children do not need to eat steamed cabbage. It’s more a matter of developing a healthy relationship with what is not healthy.
These 7 habits help to model healthy eating behaviour for our children:
Education is the best prevention
This means: talk about it!
Let our children understand why it is important for us to eat vegetables. Without scaring them, they should learn why a low-salt diet is good for their bodies and why we should not eat only sweets. Food education in children’s language.
For our children, I have represented everything in the form of a castle. This castle (our body) needs energy (carbohydrates) so that the walls can be built. Salt, on the other hand, deprives the moat of the water that protects it. Secondly, we have a defence system. This needs knights (vitamins) that can fight off attacks (pathogens) and protect the castle. Our bones need protein, just as the castle walls need clay to stay strong and resistant. Thus, stories of all kinds can be used to explain to children the importance of a healthy diet.
When the taste buds sprout
Already during pregnancy, the mother’s eating habits influence the development of the baby’s taste. Foods that the mother likes and eats often will later be preferred by her child.
What we serve our infants continues to influence the development of their sense of taste. In the first year of life, the child’s gut is still “immature” and salt and sugar should be avoided. On the other hand, exploring different tastes promotes the pleasure of eating a variety of foods. For example, vegetable broth without salt can be used for seasoning. This tickles the taste buds without the spices harming the baby. Even after the first year of life, it is a good idea to offer our children foods with as little salt and as little sugar as possible.
This way, in the long run, their taste buds will also be satisfied by the “natural” taste of our food.
Nutrition is more than just food
The colourful food pyramid is now well known to us. However, healthy eating behaviour starts long before the meal and extends from shopping to preparing and tidying the kitchen. Let’s walk this path together! Perhaps a child can draw the ingredients on the shopping list. At the supermarket, we can look for the ingredients together or look for funny packaging. Have you ever found the red gnome on the broth? Knead the dough together and after the meal take the plates to the kitchen like waiters/waitresses. Study the list of ingredients once. How much tomato is in the ketchup and what does chicken broth have to do with a chicken?
All of this can make children aware of healthy eating.
Kids are conservative
Children like rituals and regularity. It gives them security.
- They eat vegetable sticks with a sauce at every snack.
- At snack time they can always have something sweet to nibble on.
- Every Sunday we make a pizza together and cups are placed by the sink so that everyone can drink some water while washing their hands.
Such rituals help to cultivate healthy eating habits and give a healthy framework to unhealthy habits.
Self-determination is not the enemy
“We eat what we find on the table!
Many parents fear that children are too self-determined when it comes to food education. Otherwise they just eat what they want!
But isn’t that our goal?
That our little eaters become adults who feel what their bodies need, want and feel good about?
That they learn to stop when they are full, to perceive their body’s signals and to act accordingly?
Our “instinct” would also be a good advisor at the table.
A healthy body lets us sense exactly what it needs. We then want it.
Of course, children need us to accompany them so that they can satisfy their “cravings” in the healthiest way possible.
But let’s be honest, our parenting toolbox has plenty to offer:
The “nicecream” made from frozen bananas and cocoa for ice cream cravings, vegetable puree in “tomato sauce”, dried fruit gums for “dörfi Gummibärli?” or salt-free broth for “steamed potatoes”.
Create shared moments together
Eating should feel good. And also to the relationship.
Whenever everyday life permits, a meal can become a shared event. Time spent at the family table can be an opportunity to tell stories or play games. Playing while eating does not mean playing with food. It is possible, for example, to whisper a word to each other and laugh together at the resulting gibberish.
In this way, the meal can be associated with pleasant feelings.
Don’t take complaining personally
If you don’t like your neighbour’s vegetable gratin, it doesn’t mean that you don’t like it.
When faced with children who grumble at the table, it can be helpful to remember that they are only rejecting what has been cooked, not us as parents. If we scold the grumbling child and shame them, the family meal can become a real struggle.
You can see that, can’t you? – This is not a good ground for healthy eating behaviour.
In order to break this downward spiral of feelings, it is worthwhile to look together for an alternative menu that the child can eat in this case.