Why you need to teach your kids about healthy eating
It's so important to teach your children about choosing healthy foods and eating well, from an early age. Poor diets amongst young children in the UK means that the country is facing serious problems in the future. With the NHS currently spending around £6bn on diet-related diseases and this cost set to rapidly escalate, due to a failure to teach children the importance of healthy eating at school and in the home (1), it's time we all took action and did more to provide our children with the food-education that they need.
Are things really that bad?
A study published by Ella's Kitchen in February 2013 revealed that from 2009 to 2010, the number of children who don't eat any fruit or vegetables increased by one-third, whilst there was a 25% drop in the amount of fresh produce purchased by the poorest families in the UK. These worrying statistics could be setting the country up for a healthcare crisis in the future. Cooking and healthy eating should be part of the national curriculum for all children, but don't forget that food education begins at home. Teaching children about a healthy diet and lifestyle begins with making healthy choices at home.
Taking the first steps
It's no longer enough just to eat well-balanced meals together as a family - we need to take responsibility for our children's healthy eating and reduce their risk of obesity and serious health problems in later life. Being obese can increase the risk of developing heart disease, cancer and diabetes. So how can you engage your children when it comes to food?
Buy books about food
Children love stories about where food comes from and how it's grown - so read with them and to them from a young age, to encourage them to ask questions and show an interest in the food they eat.
Take kids to community farms and gardens
Family days out to projects such as Incredible Edible in Todmorden allows kids to learn firsthand how food is grown, harvested and prepared. Food-based learning is so important and even visiting your allotment or garden vegetable patch can help children to connect with food and become curious about what they're eating and where it comes from.
Create a family garden
It doesn't matter how much space you have - if you're lucky enough to have an allotment or a large garden, great! Kids are equally as happy growing some herbs in a pot on the kitchen windowsill, or some cress seeds in damp cotton wool. Children can get involved in the rewarding process of planting, watering and harvesting produce. They'll feel more connected to and engaged with food if they have helped to grow it, which can encourage them to make healthier choices as adults.
Involve them in food shopping and meal planning
Sometimes the weekly shop can seem like a rushed affair, but whenever you have a little more time, take the kids to farmer's markets, supermarkets and the local butchers, to see where food comes from. Get them involved in meal planning and creating a shopping list. Take them to the fruit and vegetable aisle to identify various fruits and vegetables for meals - make shopping a fun, learning experience.
Stick to family meal times
When you're working long hours and busier than ever before, it's easy for family mealtimes to turn into a ready meal on the sofa. But routine is important to kids and sharing meals together as a family brings you closer and improves your communication skills. A study by scientists at the University of Florida (2) revealed that eating together reduces the likelihood of obesity and makes it more likely that kids are eating a nutritious, balanced diet.
We know that cooking or baking with kids can lead to a very messy kitchen, but let them get stuck in from time to time. Involving kids in cooking ensures they're learning valuable life skills that will allow them to cook for themselves in future - they're also learning about the ingredients involved in recipes and it's a great way to spend time with them during the school holidays, having fun and teaching them too!
Do healthier kids turn into healthier adults?
Teaching your children to cook means they're more likely to grow up to be healthy adults. A study carried out by researchers at City University London revealed that cooking classes aimed at school pupils positively affected their eating habits - students who participated reporting eating more fruit and vegetables after the lessons (3).
Another study by the School Food Trust showed that teaching 4 to 8 year olds how to cook not only improved their recognition of healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables, it also made them want to eat them more! Trying new food, like Thai or Chinese food, Mexican food or even showing children how to make burgers from scratch teaches them how to experiment with food, gives them a challenge and improves their skills.
Children who eat a healthy, balanced diet are more likely to grow into happy, successful individuals. It's important that we promote healthy eating from a very early age and it's never too soon to start introducing your child to fruit and vegetables, so that they accept them as part of their everyday diet. Ensuring your children eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, good fats (such as omega-3 fatty acids, which can promote the development of a healthy brain), protein and carbs gives them the essential nutrients they need to grow up strong and healthy, whilst equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to make healthy eating choices well into adulthood.
READ THIS NEXT: Healthy eating inspiration - our 6 favourite sites