Baby stepping to healthier eating

As a Health Coach, I think it’s quite remarkable that in a relatively short period of time we’ve really boomeranged back to see more wholesome eating properly take hold in the
mainstream. It’s so encouraging to see our kids growing up full well knowing what a
farmer’s market is and the importance of sustainable ingredients. And while we still have no shortage of diet fads and trendy superfoods, there are some basics to eating well that
everyone seems to know off the cuff:

Eat the rainbow!
Opt for whole grains!
Mind your sugars!

Half-Steps to Eating Well
For those who really want to start walking the walk and swapping in more nutritious and
fresher ingredients these suggestions sound simple to get going on. But when you’re a
parent and so many hard-won routines around food are already established, it can seem
really daunting to add anything new in. To take some of the pressure off, I think there’s a
misconception that these changes can happen overnight with one good pantry makeover.
Even for an adult, making healthier choices can be a whole new way of eating that takes
months to get used to. So, imagine for kids this requires even more “palate training” and
dozens of opportunities to try new foods.

Baby steps are really the way to go as you figure out what you and your family enjoy and
which healthy plus-up’s make the most sense without starting World War III at mealtime.
One of the best ways in is going what I like to call “halfsies” – cut the sugar in half by mixing with an unsweetened version, cut the plain white option by mixing in half of the brown wholemeal version, etc. Eventually by practicing this and figuring out what everyone can get onboard with you’ll arrive at your own family’s food philosophy – what foods are important and meaningful to you, nutritious staples that are weeknight wins, what counts as splurges and treats. That can ultimately really take some of the mental load off of getting everyone fed and keeping up the good work. Here are some well-loved kids’ food categories, where some small halfsies swaps can lead to big leaps forward:

Yogurt
Our kids love their kiddy yogurt pots and squeezy pouches, don’t they? However, when food is pre-portioned we don’t have much control over it and flavoured yogurt is an easy place for extra added sugars to hide. Try mixing just a few spoonfuls of your child’s favourite flavour(s) into a portion of Natural/Unsweetened yogurt. I like plain Greek yogurt here as the extra creaminess and protein really boost things up overall. Repackage in your own reusable containers and pouches so you can send your child on the go with their very own signature flavour!

Juice


Have you ever gotten called out by your kid for watering down their juice? They seem to
have radar for that old trick once they’ve had the real stuff. But again, beverages are a really easy culprit for excess sugar and equally easy to tone down. I like to take more of a mocktail approach and offer the kids a splash of fresh juices in sparkling water at dinnertime. They know that’s their “juice” moment and have fun creating their own flavour combos – natural lemonade + orange juice for a citrus-y zinger, a fresh mixed berries juice for a pink punch, we’ve even had a spa theme with sliced cucumber! Garnish with a small slice of fruit and a fun/crazy straw and your kids have got a perfectly fancy drink of their own. The splash of juice is literally a fraction of what they would normally take in a juice box and you could even simply squeeze from fresh fruit if that’s convenient. After switching to these halfsies sparklers, you may find drinking straight juices may even start to taste a little too sweet to your own palate!

Pasta & Carbohydrates

I have to say maybe the best positive outcome from the gluten-free craze is the new wide
variety of wholesome wheat-alternative products. Legumes and ancient grains are great
options to add into everyone’s diet, even when wheat presents no issue. Chickpeas, lentils,
peas and quinoa are all having a big moment turning up in pastas, crackers, crisps, and
more. But these alternatives can be TERRIFYING to a child who only knows white pasta!
Luckily there are already kids versions of gluten-free and heartier wholemeal pastas to ease them in with fun shapes. If you’re not feeling confident a whole bowl of a red or brownish-coloured pasta will go down without resistance, go halfsies again mixing with a familiar white pasta in a similar shape and their favourite sauce. Ditto for rice – try half white/half brown sticky short grain rice in a trusty sauce (my kids simply like a dash of sesame oil) and they may not even notice the difference. At snack time try presenting a variety of crackers or crisps in different shapes and colours with a single well-loved dip or spread. Let them be the guide to figure out which they like best after the standard white version.

Find Your Way In
Finally, my best advice for making inroads with healthier ingredients is find your “thing.” By
that I mean are you a smoothie-making house? Hummus lovers? Always whipping up a
batch of muffins on the weekend? Find the comfort food in your household that can be a
conveyer for trying new flavours, without having to totally hide it. And start easy, there’s no prize for jumping into the deep end on Day 1! Just swap in 25-50% of your plus-up and see where the tolerance point is. Maybe that’s a little carrot juice to an all-fruit smoothie. Or some spinach and avocado blended into hummus. Try out a savory muffin recipe made with whole grain flour that you can serve with dinner. Most importantly, keep it fun and light, ask the kids for their input, and know it will get a little messy. We’re ultimately making food memories here and getting everyone involved is key to warming hearts and tummies.

 

Lisa Werner is a Health Coach certified through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and
has worked with young families to help them organise the meal planning in their
households.