Raising good eaters

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I was recently asked a few canteen questions by a journalist – “How often is it ok for parents to organise a canteen lunch without feeling guilty? How do you navigate the school canteen menu to work out the healthy choices, and how can parents deal with pressure from kids to order unhealthy choices?”. So here’s a little bit of background for you on how to make the best choices when it comes to your school canteen.

Before we begin, it needs to be said – we need to remove “guilt” from all the vocabulary that surrounds eating and feeding our families! Parenting is a tough gig, and Bloom is not in the business of putting added, unnecessary pressure on our family feeding relationships. From our inception we have always wanted to place “being real over being ideal”. So with that in mind, here a few tips to navigate the schools canteen minefield!

How often it’s best to order from your canteen depends on the choices available to you, and the choices you make. Ordering meals and snacks that reflect good eating choices mean you can confidently use the canteen to meet your little one’s food needs more regularly, if thats what you’re keen to do.

Most Australian schools follow, or aim to follow state canteen guidelines. These generally use a traffic light system to indicate healthier and unhealthy choices ( NSW has recently released a different balance system using health star ratings).

The red, amber and green categories in the traffic light system give you a good guide, and many canteens display their menus this way. Red foods should not be available on the regular school menu, outside of a few discreet occasions. Amber and Green foods should be the choices available to families, where amber is to “choose carefully” and green is “go”! There are different cut offs state by state, but they are relatively similar, and no matter where you live, the more green choices you make the more nutritious your family’s canteen food choices will be.

So at the canteen, as with healthy eating at home, the more you base your meal and snack choices around fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and wholegrains the more nutritious the food will be.

Menus obviously differ between schools, but try and centre canteen choices around options that feature whole foods as the core ingredients – vegetables, fruits, lean protein, dairy, and whole grain cereals.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE) food plate gives a rough visual indication of what proportions to base kids canteen meals (or lunch boxes) on – try and make at least 1/3 -1/2 meal veg and fruit, then split the rest 1/2 wholegrain cereals, 1/2 combined lean protein/dairy. Check it out here.

If your canteen sells meals like: vegetable based stir-frys, jacket potatoes with vegetables and lean meat toppings, meat and salad sandwiches, wraps or wholegrain rolls, and sushi rolls these are some really good options. For snacks, items like: fresh fruit salads, fruit snack packs, smoothies, yogurts, or veggies with dips and crackers are great choices you can regularly make with confidence.

To avoid conflicts, uneaten lunches and to improve kids understanding about the importance of the foods they eat, children should definitely be involved in the choice of their foods from the canteen. Parents can provide a selection of 3 or 4 options they are happy for their children to choose from, and let kids choose their preference from there. Eg “Today would you like sushi, stir-fry, fried rice or a chicken and salad roll?”.

This method fits really well with Ellyn Satter’s  Division of Responsibility in feeding, “the parent provides, child decides” – this still applies even if you are not preparing the food yourself.

And as far as how can parents deal with the pressure from a child to order unhealthy items?

If you’re using the canteen regularly, you need to approach it the same way you would filling a healthy lunch box, and make nutritious choices.

Talk openly about it with your child, and set an agreement in place. School kids can understand that food is fuel for all the great things they want to do, and you need to fuel your body well.

Less healthy options should only be chosen occasionally, for example limit those items to say a “free choice day” once per term. (Even the reduced fat pastry items like pies and sausage rolls are best avoided more often than this. Even if they can just make it into the amber category, as they don’t provide any of the great nutritional benefits of vegetables, fruit, dairy and wholegrains.)

However, with good planning and food choices, parents definitely can pack quick, nutritious lunches from home at a much lower price. Want more info on how to pack a nutritious balanced lunchbox? One that’s healthy, but importantly quick and easy? Stay tuned for our next blog post…

Angela @ Bloom 🌿


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Women’s magazines, television advertisements, or Instagram.

There has always been a source of that picture perfect family image, sitting around a table, laughing, sharing wholesome food at a gorgeously set table. Everyone is eating, drinking, smiling.
No-one is crying, refusing their dinner, and there is not more food down on the floor than there is up on the table.

It can be difficult to swing the dinner pendulum from one end of the spectrum to the other (unrealistic) one. But there are some simple tips you can apply to dinner prep and meal time to make things run a little smoother, so that everyone eats, drinks and smiles… for at least some of the meal 😉

So what can I do?!

Prepare as much of the meal ahead of time as possible. It will decrease your workload around meal time, and help set a more relaxed tone in the eating environment. If possible chop, par-cook, or fully cook parts of the meal that can be prepared ahead, without tired, hungry little people clutching at your legs. If you are at home, this might be at lunchtime while little ones nap, or the night before or early morning if you are heading out to work.

While you finish cooking or assembling the meal, ask children to help out, with different tasks depending on their ages. Washing hands themselves, setting plates, cups and cutlery are small things, but if they can do these independently they are occupied, and have contributed to making things work, while you’re free to put the finishing touches on a meal.

Offer meals platter or buffet style, serving components separately where you can to allow kids to choose which parts of the meal they would like. For example, serving a new slow cooker curry on top of rice directly on a child’s plate may mean they refuse the entire meal. But having the curry, rice, naan and a child friendly selection of vegetables separately at the table may mean your child tries more. Even if they don’t choose a food first time around, having it remain available to them, and seeing others eat and enjoy it, increases their exposure to the food.

Allow family members to season a meal to their tastes. Many people leave out large amounts of hot spices from family meals, like pepper and chilli, but allow them to be added at the table. But try offering other seasonings too – like lemon wedges, parmesan, dukkah, fresh herbs, pesto, tomato relish, smoked paprika… the list goes on! You may be surprised what your children enjoy. ( It may not be the best example, but throw back to the days of adding tomato sauce to a meal that wasn’t quite your favourite as a child… get my drift?!)

Consider having one or two “non-threatening” foods available when trying a new meal with tastes or textures that may be challenging for some members of the family. If serving a new meal, offer an item like bread, grated cheese, or salad vegetables that your child can eat comfortably, and still participate in the family meal time.

Finally, and most importantly, don’t feel the entire success of a meal, and whether or not your child eats it, is your responsibility alone. ‘The parent provides, but the child decides’ is the central message from Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding. Once you’ve done your job as parent, providing a wholesome meal in a relaxed environment, the rest is up to your child. Try to sit back and enjoy meal time for what it is – a family sharing together. Following this mantra can result in children progressively eating more of the family meal, enjoying a larger variety of foods, and a greater feeling of contentment at the family dinner table for everyone involved.

Angela @ Bloom 🌿


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“Mama, what’s for dinner?”

For those of us who’ve ever had a fussy eater, this question can make you break into a sweat. You’ve spent all this time, and money, making a new recipe. A wholesome family meal, which looked fabulous on screen, sporting 5 shining starts and rave reviews from other people telling you how much their family liked it. But what about your family?

If you’ve every had this situation, and found it an epic fail, don’t despair. Take a few steps back and look at where the opportunities lie to improve your success rate; it could be about timing…

 

Being exposed to new foods at the dinner table can be too confronting for children who have difficulty with food variety.

The eating environment at dinner can be a little overwhelming for some young children; it may be loud or rushed, or they may sense their parents stress or expectations about the meal ahead. On top of all of this, young children can be very tired come this time of day.

To improve your strike rate with eating new meals, allow kids to be introduced to new foods well ahead of time, with no expectation that they have to eat it. This can be as hands on as you and your child are happy for!

Print out the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating . Point out different ingredients and talk with your child about which they have tried, those they like, or dislike, and why. See if you can pick any similarities between foods they either like or dislike. Ask what can be done to different foods to make them taste better to to them.

Give your child a grocery catalogue or a food recipe magazine and a pencil or Texta. Sit together and ask them to circle foods or recipes that they’d like you to try (you can get ahead of the game and tear out the confectionary and soft drink pages, or anything else you’re keen to avoid!). Older children may like to cut out pictures and stick them on to a shopping list.
Take your child to the fruit and veg shop. Ask them to collect the food that you need and place it in the trolley or basket. You don’t need to ask if they will eat it, the aim is to have them exposed to the food, learning its name, and touching it as it goes into the basket.

While you unpack groceries into the fridge and pantry, talk to children about the great things that eating good food does for their bodies. “This meat will help to make you strong”, “This brown rice will give you energy to run fast”, “This salmon will help to make your hair shiny”… whatever works for your child’s age and interests!

Kids can participate in meal preparation. Young children may have their high chair placed in a safe place within the kitchen so they can view food preparation, and be given small pieces of food and utensils to “help” and play. Older children can participate in preparing parts of the family meal, to have a sense of ownership over the food.

Food doesn’t have to come from a shop! A simple but effective way to have children become familiar with new foods is to grow them yourself. Kids love colour, so if you have the space, try to grow a range of different coloured fruits, vegetables and herbs in pots or your backyard. If ‘greens’ are a problem in your home, try milder or sweeter varieties to get the ball rolling, such as snow peas, cucumbers or even avocados.

And remember, there are lots of times in the day to try a new food or meal. If your child is happier and more willing earlier in the day, consider making brunch or lunch a key time to try new foods. Set up a picnic on a rug, or play restaurant at your child’s play table if you want to help them have some fun with new foods.

So, what to do when dinner time comes around? Check out out post on “Happy Meal? How to make dinner time more successful and enjoyable when feeding your young family”

Over the years we have helped lots of families improve their child’s eating. Feeding, just like family life, is about finding what works for you. For more great information, our e-book (coming soon) shares genuine advice and practical tips that have been a success for many families, including our own!

Do you have any good food familiarisation tips for young eaters? Drop us a line…

Angela @ Bloom 🌿

Note: some children have more serious, medical issues that will also impact upon their feeding. In the SOS approach to feeding these are known as ‘red flags’. You can read more about them here . If your child is showing signs like these, or anything else medically concerning, speak to your family doctor as soon as possible.