According to a few of my friends, food is just food. You buy it or grow it, prepare it, eat it, then move on with your life. Even though I most certainly don’t think this way, I can kind of understand why they do. It comes back to that “do we live to eat or eat to live?” question. To me, I really think it’s both. Food *is* absolutely just food when you look at it in a black and white kind of way. Yes, we need to eat to survive and so that’s what we do. But to ignore the whole other side of food and eating, is to miss out, or so I believe!
The “other side of food” for me relates to happiness, love, celebration, custom, sharing, learning, teaching, giving, and also, very importantly, having fun! Many occasions; birthdays, anniversaries, religious holidays and so on, have certain foods intrinsically linked to them and lots of our memories right from when we were very young up until more recently are linked to food, and the good times we’ve had devouring it.
At the end of the day, the one thing everybody agrees on is that all humans must eat. Another thing that an absolute majority would also agree on is that we should aim to eat as healthily as possible, most of the time. To me, all of this just seems like common sense, but to some people, especially to kids, it isn’t as obvious. When talking to children about “common sense on the subject of food” nothing should be taken for granted.
I’m sure there are many youngsters who would struggle to understand why hot chips, cupcakes and fizzy drinks don’t make up a ‘complete diet’. “But Mum, that’s variety?!” Heck, I think I’ve even used that one….. and I AM the Mum!
So, in order to help kids eat healthily and have a varied diet, I think the best thing to do is to tap into the ‘fun’ component I mentioned above. I know there are loads of ways to address “fussy eaters”, however, I’ve found making food fun to be the most successful, especially when it comes to kids that are a little bit older. They’re more cluey and more interested to know all the details about what they’re eating, where it came from, who made it, etc so little white lies, disguising things and bribery won’t necessarily work! And lots of parents don’t agree with those methods anyway! Whereas if it’s fun, everyone wants to be a part of it!
Here are my top tips to help ‘make food fun’, especially when it comes to eating/cooking with kids:
1. “COOLER” WHEN IT’S FROZEN: Food is more fun when it’s frozen. Who doesn’t agree with this!? “Hello Miss 7, Would you like a yogurt or a FROZEN yogurt!?”, “Some custard or some ICE CREAM, Master 9?!” I think I know what I want! Icy treats have a lot more appeal than things at room temperature or ‘worse’ hot. And it doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming to create these treats. Plain or flavoured milk frozen on a popsicle stick and yogurt blitzed with fruit and ice cubes are just two easy examples of how you can achieve healthy, nutritious and fun snacks in just minutes.
2. BE CREATIVE AND ENCOURAGE THEM TO BE TOO: Don’t laugh if the kids suggest almonds and mint to be mixed into their vanilla yogurt. You never know, it could taste delicious and you may have the next Heston Blumenthal on your hands! Even if that creation isn’t a success, the fact they were involved and using their imagination counts for more than a few tablespoons of food that doesn’t get eaten.
3. PUT THE KIDS IN CHARGE: By this I don’t mean hand over your keys, credit card details and weekly spending budget, I just mean let them decide what you / they should cook for dinner this Saturday night. Give them a key ingredient or two e.g cheese and chicken, and let them lead the way. They will be more likely to eat and be positive about a meal that they have chosen than one they’ve had nothing to do with.
4. IT’S A PROCESS, IT’S NOT JUST ‘LUNCH': Eating a meal is not just about having a plate of food slammed in front of you after netball training or a lunch box just appearing in your face at 1pm, It’s about getting it there. Who sat down and thought about the menu? Who went shopping? Who prepared the food in the kitchen before it hit the plate? Get the kids involved in the process as well as in the consumption.
5. CREATE A COMPETITION: Everyone loves a bit of friendly competition. When I was about 8, I remember all the kids in my street got together once a week for a “Community Cooking Competition” (kind of like Junior Masterchef, suburban style, in the ’80s!) Anyway, each week we would meet at a different person’s house and each kid would be given a “key ingredient” or two, such as yogurt, cheese, eggs, cream or meat etc and we would have to create something that all the other kids wanted to eat. Each week, all of the kids involved chose the winner based on the dish they found to be the yummiest. We did this for 6 months. There was even a grand finale! I remember it well. Children love friendly competition and you can do this with kids in the neighbourhood (like I did), or with cousins, siblings or school friends.
6. MAKE IT INTERACTIVE: The actual eating part. For example cheese fondue where everyone chooses what they want to dip into the shared fountain of melted cheese, or vegetable fingers (carrot, celery, cucumber etc) and individual pots of Tzatziki yogurt dip. I call it “activity eating” where you have to “do something” just prior to popping the food into your mouth! Ice cream mix-ins in small bowls for children to add their own toppings to their cone and different options of chopped fruit for smoothies, are also examples.
7. SHARING IS CARING: When you’re little, it’s a lot more fun to have dinner with your friends as opposed to just Mum and Dad! Things like pizzas loaded with mozzarella that stretches to infinity are great fun for sleepovers and provide good opportunities to get kids to have fun with what they’re eating. BBQs, big family dinners, birthdays etc are good times to get kids to try something new. In a fun / exciting moment, they’re more likely to have what everyone else is having and take a bite of something they otherwise may not have ever tried!
8. NOT TOO MANY RULES: When it comes to kids and food, making it fun will make meal time more successful for EVERYONE. If you want them to eat their required number of meat, vegetable and dairy servings every day, you will need to do YOUR best to help them help themselves. Setting too many rules will distract from achieving the main goal, which is to get the variety in their diet and the right amount of the good stuff daily. So you know what, if today they want to mix chocolate into their glass of milk, let ’em! As my Mum always says “Choose your battles wisely!”
Three healthy recipes that are simple to make and delicious to eat:
1) FRUITY YOGURT SMOOTHIES (Makes 1)
200g tub fruit yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped strawberries
. Blend ingredients together until smooth.
. Pour into a chilled tall glass and serve with a straw.
Tips / Handy Hints
Kids will adore slurping other fruit flavours such as banana, pineapple, peaches, apricots and fresh mango. Also try freezing this mixture in ice cube trays for icy treats.
2) BUBBLE AND SQUEAK SLICE(Serves 8)
1 medium zucchini, grated
1 carrot, grated
1/3 cup frozen peas
1/3 cup corn kernels
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon water
4 spring onions, chopped
1/2 cup grated reduced fat cheddar cheese
1/3 cup crumbled reduced fat feta cheese
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup reduced fat milk
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, mint, chives, basil)
1/2 cup self-raising flour
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon torn fresh basil leaves, for serving
. Heat a non-stick frypan, add zucchini, carrot, peas, corn, garlic and water and cook until softened. Cool slightly.
. Combine cooked vegetables with spring onions, cheddar, feta, eggs, milk, herbs and flour. Spoon mixture into a lined 28cm x 18cm slab pan. Stud cherry tomatoes onto mixture decoratively and bake at 180°C for 35 minutes or until golden and cooked.
. Rest for 10-15 minutes before sprinkling with basil, slicing into small squares and serving.
Tips / Handy Hints
A delicious idea that can also be served cold in school lunch boxes or as a side dish to a main meal.
3) FRUIT SALAD YO-POPS (Makes 12)
125g strawberries, hulled
1 medium banana, peeled and chopped200g canned fruit salad in natural juice, drained, 2 tablespoons juice reserved
1 mango, peeled and chopped250g reduced fat natural yogurt12 icy pole sticks
. Process strawberries with 2 teaspoons water in a blender until smooth. Remove and reserve.
. Place remaining ingredients in blender and process until smooth.
. Layer tablespoons of fruit salad puree with teaspoons of strawberry puree in icy pole moulds until full. Insert icy pole sticks and freeze until firm.
Tips / Handy Hints
Fresh mango can be substituted with 1 cup frozen mango, canned peaches, apricots or passionfruit.
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Low intakes of dairy foods and calcium leaves growing bodies short of a vital nutrient needed to build strong bones, increasing the risk of fractures now and osteoporosis later life.
Three serves of dairy every day in any combination – where a serve is one glass of milk (250mL), two slices or sticks of cheese (40g), or one small tub of yogurt (200g) – gives most kids enough calcium plus nine other essential nutrients for growth and development. Please visit the site for more information as well as easy tips, tasty recipes and an interactive calcium planner.
* Secondary Analysis of the 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, CSIRO, 2009.
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How do you make food fun for your kids?