Creating a Good Relationship with Food for Your Child

Eating healthy, Happy tummy

Bliss Early Learning recently asked Karina Savage from Smartbite Nutrition to attend our Pyrmont centre to give a presentation about gut health and fussy eaters. Her presentation was solely aimed at how to raise competent eaters and how creating a good relationship with food for children can set them up for better metabolic health as adults.

Gut Health & Concentration

Karina mentions that 75% – 80% of the immune system is actually in the gastrointestinal tract. So, what children are eating ends up in the gastrointestinal tract and either nourishes or inflames the gut. This then dictates their immunity and their overall health and wellbeing. That’s why it is important to feed children good food with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds so that their gut health is really strong and robust.

Grains and slow-release carbohydrates are also great foods to offer children as their concentration performs a lot better if their energy levels are more sustained. Karina compares this to white processed foods which tend to shoot sugar levels straight up and then brings them back down a short while later, which can cause mood changes or a “hangry state of mind” which can really affect a child’s concentration.

5 Food Groups

All food groups are important and if families for whatever reason need to remove a food group, then it’s important that they’re substituting appropriately. It is about making sure children are still getting the nutrition that they need whatever the source. Ideally, a child’s dinner plate should be 1/3 protein, 1/3 vegetables, 1/3 carbohydrates. A few tips and tricks to ensure children are consuming all food groups and getting the right nutrients:

  1. Carbohydrate: Wholemeal or wholegrain where possible as opposed to white processed carbohydrates
  2. Fruit: Wherever possible, try leaving the skin on fruits. This is a good way to get children to eat fibre. It may pose as a choking risk for younger children, so a tip is to cut apples vertically into really thin apple slices like chips.
  3. Vegetables: Vegetables come in a variety of colours. Suggest eating a ‘rainbow’ of fruit and vegetables to keep things fun from the get-go.
  4. Meat/Meat Substitute: The amount of protein a child needs on their dinner plate is roughly the size of the palm of their hand. Eggs are a good way to get protein in if children aren’t good meat-eaters.
  5. Dairy or Equivalent: Making sure they are getting enough calcium for their bones e.g. instead of cow’s milk for calcium, children can still obtain this from leafy greens.

Managing Salts and Sugars

A recent study shows that children overall consumed too much salt and sugars. This is mainly caused by offering our children processed and packaged food which is high in sodium or sugar.

  • Compare nutritional content: A good way to reduce the salt and sugar intake in children is for parents to be aware of how much sugar or sodium is in the snack they are providing their child. You can do this by checking the nutritional information on the back of any food packaging and comparing items per 100 grams or per 100 ml, and choosing the lower sodium or lower sugar option.
  • Look at the Ingredient List: Companies usually lump fruit sugars and added sugars into one category and present this finding to you as one figure in the nutritional table at the back of the food packet. For example, Sultana Bran cereal, for instance, contains 28.2g of sugar per 100g which is almost 30% sugar however the fine print states that over 2/3 of the sugar in this product is from sultanas which in fact makes Sultana Bran a healthier option than a cereal that has 28.2g of added sugar alone. The ingredients list on the back of products is in order of quantity. If you find that sugar is near the top of the list then go for an option where sugar is closer to the bottom of the list.
  • No Juice: Children are getting sugars from a range of different sources. A really good way to start reducing sugar intake is to stop all fruit juice. A cup of apple juice from the bottle contains about 6 teaspoons of sugar. Unless your child is sick and requires a dose of Vitamin C from freshly squeezed orange juice, then fruit juice is a no-go zone. Slowly reduce juice from their daily intake, and when attending events like birthday parties where children are consuming all sorts of sweets like cakes and chocolates, simply opt for them to have water instead of juice.

Fussy Eaters

“Sometimes Food” and “Everyday Foods”

Karina states that having a good relationship with food starts by not forbidding any form of food in your household. She says “if you are an over-restrictive parent, you’re going to end up a with a closet binge eater”. It is okay to allow children to have chocolate or cake “sometimes” and start talking about it as “Sometimes Food” and “Everyday Foods”. Parents should never talk about food as good or bad or mention anything about guilt when you have certain foods. Always try to remain very food neutral as that’s very powerful with kids.

“Parent Provides, Child Decides”

Try not to engage in food battles with children because parents will rarely win. Karina mentioned that food is one of the few ways children are able to gain power, and they are able to use that to their advantage to try and control their food environment. A great way to think about it is “Parent Provides, Child Decides” Not “Child Decides, Parent Provides” which she says happens a lot. For example, parents would present the options of healthy foods that are on offer, and the child can choose which of those they want to eat, and which they don’t want to eat.

Role Modelling & Repetition

Role modelling and eating with your child is so important. In order for child to accept a certain food, they also need to see their parents eat it. Great way parents can get their child to try new foods is if you’re having something different for dinner, place a tiny bit of that food on their plate as the test food. For example, if you’re eating butter chicken, add a teaspoon of butter chicken on their plate – they don’t have to eat it, touch it or look at it, but they just have to tolerate it. This might need to happen 10 or 15 times before they get used to it, however, over time, they will begin to accept the food you are offering if they see it enough times, and if they see their parents eating it.

Research actually says that the importance of the social environment during their dinner time and the family interaction the child has is as important if not more so than the actual food they’re putting in their mouth. A child is more likely to want to eat the food because they are in a much happier place if parents are providing a happy and positive environment during dinner time. In contrast, if there are constant food battles over eating the first piece of broccoli, the child can feel tense and not want to eat at all.

To find out more about the meals Bliss Early Learning provide your children, you can read about our new menu here. Alternatively, if you would like to get in contact with Karina, Smartbite Nutrition for more information.