Following our successful 10 week Psychology Series, HSE Community Healthcare West (Galway, Mayo & Roscommon) are continuing with a Health Series on Boyletoday.com every Monday for the next number of weeks. This week our topic is ‘Healthy eating tips for young families’
Healthy Eating can be a challenge for many of us at various times in normal circumstances. As we continue our journey through COVID-19, it is more important than ever to look after our general health and that of our family, and eating well is a huge part of that.
Many families are spending more time at home together, routines have been affected and it may be more difficult to maintain healthy eating. HSE Dietitian, Sinead Mannion has put together a few tips to help us to get back on track with healthy eating for all the family.
Have regular family meals
Having regular meals might have been something difficult to schedule due to parents busy working schedules and children’s recreational activities. So now is an excellent opportunity to start! Also, family meals are a chance for parents to introduce children to new foods and to be role models for healthy eating.
Research has shown children who regularly take part in family meals are also:
• more likely to eat fruits, vegetables, and grains
• less likely to snack on unhealthy foods
Teens may turn up their noses at the prospect of a family meal. Due to COVID-19 restrictions teens now have more time at home, so this is a great time to get them involved. Studies find that teens still want their parents’ advice on different issues. Use mealtime as a chance to talk about the worries and stresses they have as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
You might also try these tips:
• Involve your child in meal planning and preparation
• Keep mealtime calm and friendly
• What counts as a family meal? Whenever you and your family eat together — strive for nutritious food and a time when everyone can be there.
Stock Up on Healthy Foods
Children, especially younger ones, will eat mostly what’s available at home. That’s why it’s important to control the type of food brought into the house — the foods that you serve for meals and have on hand for snacks.
Follow these basic guidelines:
• Work fruits and vegetables into the daily routine, aiming for the goal of at least five servings a day. Be sure you serve fruit or vegetables at every meal.
• Make it easy for kids to choose healthy snacks by keeping fruits and vegetables on hand and ready to eat. Ensure that they are clearly visible on the kitchen table or similar. You could try the following:
o Chop some carrots up into batons
o Cut some strawberries into smaller bit size pieces
o Chop some red, green and yellow peppers into lengths
o Have a bowl of mixed fruit salad available in the fridge
Other good snacks include
• Low-fat yogurt, peanut butter and celery, or whole-grain crackers and cheese.
Some other basic recommendations for main meals include:
• Serve lean meats and other good sources of protein, such as fish, eggs, beans, and nuts
• Choose whole-grain breads and cereals so children get more fibre. Remember fibre is the fertiliser for good gut bacteria!
• Limit fat intake by avoiding fried foods and choosing healthier cooking methods, such as broiling, grilling, roasting, and steaming. Choose low-fat or non-fat dairy products.
Aim to reduce or limit the following:
• Fast food and low-nutrient snacks, such as crisps and sweets, but don’t completely ban favourite snacks from your home. Instead, make them “once-in-a-while” foods, so children don’t feel deprived
• Sugary drinks, such as fizzy drinks and fruit-flavoured juice drinks. Serve water and low-fat milk instead.
Be a Role Model!!
The best way for you to encourage healthy eating is to eat well yourself. Kids will follow the lead of the adults they see every day. By eating fruits and vegetables and not overindulging in the less nutritious stuff, you’ll be sending the right message.
Another way to be a good role model is to serve appropriate portions and not overeat. Talk about your feelings of fullness, especially with younger children.
Don’t Battle Over Food
Well-intentioned parents might find themselves bargaining or bribing kids so they eat the healthy food in front of them.
Children should decide if they’re hungry, what they will eat from the foods served, and when they’re full. Parents can control which foods are available to their kids, both at mealtime and between meals. Here are some guidelines to follow:
• Establish a predictable schedule of meals and snacks. It’s OK to choose not to eat when both parents and kids know when to expect the next meal or snack.
• Don’t force children to clean their plates – doing so teaches them to override feelings of fullness.
• Don’t bribe or reward children with food. Avoid using dessert as the prize for eating the meal.
• Don’t use food as a way of showing love. When you want to show love, give your child a hug, some of your time, or praise.
Get Children Involved
Most kids will enjoy deciding what to make for dinner. Talk to them about making choices and planning a balanced meal. Perhaps educate them about the different nutrients from each food and how that nutrient can help them grow e.g. omega 3 fatty acids in oily fish helps brain development, calcium in milk and dairy products helps keep bones and teeth nice and strong.
Use this opportunity while you have more time at home to get children involved in meal times. It can help prepare them to make good decisions on their own about the foods they want to eat when the time comes that you won’t be so freely available to them.
Further information/resources to support healthy eating is available from the following:
• Eat Well www.gov.ie/en/publication/
• Healthy eating during COVID-19 www.gov.ie/en/publication/
• Healthy Eating Active Living www2.hse.ie/healthy-eating-
• Healthy Eating publications available on https://www.healthpromotion.
• Healthy Eating information www.safefood.eu/Healthy-
• Make a start www.safefood.eu/Start/Welcome.
Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI)
• Nutrition Fact Sheets https://www.indi.ie/all-food-
(Image: Courtesy Vegan Liftz)