Healthy habits for busy parents
Planning, Preparing & Storing

Healthy Habits for Busy Parents

Feeding your child can be an incredibly exciting adventure but with it can come an enormous amount of pressure and anxiety. On the one hand, we understand the importance of exposing little ones to as many nutritious ingredients as possible to reach their growth and developmental milestones however busy schedules and daily realities tend to complicate matters. Read further to get my top healthy habits for parents with busy schedules…

When my son first started solids at five months old, I placed a huge amount of pressure on myself to make only the most nutritious, home-made meals for him. I would meticulously plan his meals for the week ahead, using any spare time I had on weekends, taking the utmost precaution to prepare, chop, hand purée the little individual portions in a way a cordon bleu chef would.

When I went back to work full-time this military level of planning became a lot tougher and I needed to rely on my nanny and family members to step in. This meant that I was no longer in total control of what went into my son’s tummy. It was also around this time that my son started to develop his own likes and dislikes, and my beautiful home-made meals started landing up on the floor for our dog to feast on or tossed into the bin. Fast forward to present day, my fussy-eating preschooler refuses to eat most meals that aren’t beige or crumbed regardless of how much love went into making them. 

These are just some of the realities that many parents face every day with little ones and are some of the reasons why it becomes so difficult to instill all the healthy habits you had imagined for your family.

Here are some of my top tips for for parents wanting to instill healthy habits in their homes but, because life gets in the way and busy schedules take precedence, they need to find practical strategies that make healthy eating a fuss-free part of their lives.

Get organised

The afternoon rush before bath and bed time can be one of the most stressful times of the day, especially if you haven’t even started thinking about what to serve up to the family for dinner!

Instead of worrying about getting to the shops mid-week to top-up on some healthy items, plan meals and weekly grocery trips over the weekend. Make shopping lists a part of your shopping excursions and give some thought to what can be served up each day during the week.

If you have some spare time to cook up some homemade meals for the upcoming week, this will take a huge load off your to-do list when it comes to deciding what to cook after a busy day. Cooking in larger batches at a time can also minimise the need to cook from scratch each evening.

If you’re concerned about what your little one is getting for lunch while you’re out and about, make sure the fridge is stocked with wholegrain bread or rolls, cheese, cold meat (the less processed the better!), boiled eggs and fresh fruit. The same goes for healthy snacks in the pantry like biltong, popcorn, pretzels, date balls and dried fruit.

Find smart solutions

Because the idea of slaving away in the kitchen all weekend to make nutritious meals for your family is not most parents’ version of fun, rather focus on getting smart with easy-to-prepare, healthy dishes for the week ahead. ‘Easy’ doesn’t always mean unhealthy if you make a point of reading food labels carefully and finding those choices that aren’t processed or loaded with salt, sugar and other nasty ingredients.

Consider nutritious protein choices that can be baked or grilled in a matter of minutes along with things like roasted veggies, salads and wholegrain carbohydrates like brown rice or pasta.

If you are preparing any meals in advance, think about those options that could be used throughout the week like Bolognese sauce to serve with pasta on one day and then in multigrain burritos with a choice of healthy fillings on another. By using this simple strategy, you can cook in advance without your family having to eat the same dish at multiple points throughout the week.

Pack in the nutrients

If getting your child and the rest of the family to eat their 5-a-day is a challenge, think about smart ways to get veggies, fruits and other superfoods into the meals you prepare. By chopping veggies into teeny-tiny pieces and adding them to things like casseroles, sauces, soups and stews or by tossing them into smoothies, you can sneak in some additional nutrients and add to your child’s repertoire.

Fruit can also be added to recipes as a natural sweetener, so get creative with ways to incorporate chopped pineapple into curries, sliced apple into stews or mashed banana into your baking.  

Get family and child minders on board

One of the greatest bug-bears faced by parents is that their children’s healthy eating habits fall by the wayside when family members or child minders are on duty.

To combat this, you may want to set aside the meals and snacks that you would like served to your child while you are out. Make your boundaries known when it comes to healthy eating in the household and the same goes for indulging in treats.

By getting everyone on board, your child will gain a clearer understanding of when and where treats are and aren’t allowed (even if it means your toddler erupting into a full-blown tantrum when demanding a chocolate from the pantry mid-week!).

Practice what you preach

Parents and other family members need to set the example through the same healthy eating habits, only indulging in sweet treats at set times or occasions. You can hardly expect your little one to eat their plate of veggies when other family members avoid them like the plague!

Remember that your child’s habits are directly influenced by your own choices and those portrayed in your home. Consistency is going to be key when it comes to instilling healthy eating habits, especially where headstrong little ones are concerned.

Keep the stress out of it

Many parents become overly fixated with trying to get their kids to eat healthy meals but what happens is that stress and pressure plague mealtimes. Whether tactics are severe or slightly subtler, such behaviour from parents has been seen to have a negative impact on their children now and later in life. Remember that mealtimes should be a happy time for the entire family and should never become a battleground.

Parents need to accept that there is no such thing as ‘perfect’ and that mealtimes will most likely get messy and rushed along the way. There will be days when you are late at work, days you are exhausted and days that your child simply isn’t in the mood to eat the gourmet meal you’ve created especially for him.

My advice when it comes to finding healthy eating habits for busy parents:

For those moments do your best to give them something that they will enjoy in a way that is as nutritious as possible and remember that being fluid in your approach to mealtimes is going to be the answer. Instead of stressing about your less-than-perfect reality, rather focus on establishing a healthy dynamic in your household around mealtimes, and strive to find solutions that are compatible with your and your family’s daily realities.

Plant-Based Eating

Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives

Plant-based and vegan diets are on the increase and so are the amount of plant-based products, including non-dairy alternatives, being consumed by families. This can be attributed to the growing awareness around animal cruelty and the ever-increasing amount children who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy. Whatever your reasons for choosing to keep more plant-based products in your home, parents need to ensure that they understand both the benefits and the draw-backs of opting for non-dairy alternatives for their children. 

Cow’s milk and dairy-based milk powders offer growing little people a healthy dose of calcium, protein, vitamin D and fats, which is why it has been recommended as a popular food source within a balanced diet for children.

Within a child’s first two years of life, they require a healthy dose of fats for all of their growing and developmental needs and parents are only encouraged to switch to low-fat dairy options after their little one’s second birthday. With vitamin D deficiency on the rise, largely attributed to many little ones not getting enough sunshine daily, it makes sense to opt for foods rich in vitamin D (including milk, fortified orange juice, salmon, canned tuna and egg). The great news is that non-dairy milk alternatives too offer some key nutritional benefits for you and your family but important to note is that not all dairy-free options are equal.  

So which non-dairy milk alternatives are best to give to your child without compromising on their nutrition? And what do you need to keep in mind before swapping out cow’s milk for one of them?

Nut Milks

Almond milk, along with other nut-based milks including options like hazelnut, are growing in popularity due the number of nutritional benefits and its naturally sweet taste. Almond milk provides a low-fat alternative to full-fat dairy (which is beneficial for children over the age of two) and a healthy dose of vitamin D however is lower in protein versus cow’s milk. If almond milk or other nut milks are the choice in your household, you’ll therefore need to ensure that your are providing your little one with a diet rich in other protein foods.

Fortified almond milk is able to offer your little one the calcium needed to assist with optimal growth and development but you’ll need to ensure that your nut milk of choice is indeed fotified with calcium. Always opt for non-sweetened varieties (given that sweetened options are crammed with unneccesary added sugar per serving or artifical sweeteners) and keep in mind that nut milks aren’t recommended for children with nut allergies. 

Soy Milk

Fortified soy contains a healthy dose of calcium, vitamin D and protein for young children, making it the best non-dairy alternative to cow’s milk for growing little people. The fibre content in soy has been said to assist children with the digestive issues frequently associated with cow’s milk including things like diarrhea.

Both soy milk and other soy-based products contain hormones in the form of phytoestrogens that can block the body’s ability to regulate estrogen levels. The evidence however is not conclusive on the long-term effects in children however the same can be said for other hormones found in cow’s milk.

For this reason parents should rather strive to offer soy in moderation along with a diet rich in variety. 

Steer clear from soy milk if your child has any kind of thyroid dysfunction or soy allergy.  As with any allergen foods, you will need to watch your child carefully for any adverse reactions.

Rice and Coconut Milk

As with soy and nut milks, both rice and coconut milk will need to be fortified  with calcium and vitamin D to offer optimal levels of both minerals. For children with allergies, both rice and coconut milk are viable options however it is important to note that they are not nutritionally superior to cow’s milk: while rice milk is low in protein and high in naturally occuring sugars, coconut milk is low in protein and high in satured fats. 

My advice (and the advice from experts)

Be aware of the nutritional pros and cons of non-dairy milk alternatives, or any plant-based foods for that matter, and adjust your child’s diet as required. Strive for a diet rich in variety and keep changing things up, never over-doing too much of anything and doing your best to offer your child a balanced diet. Remember you’ll have some good days and some less-good days – when your little one is open to trying new things and experimenting with tastes  and those days when your child will only eat the familiar – and that’s ok.

What’s important is that you keep offering them choices packed with a number of different nutritional benefits and if you are concerned that your child isn’t getting enough  of a particular nutrient be sure to speak to your child’s paed, doctor or nurse.

 Some tips on how to include enough calcium-containing foods in your child’s diet

Dairy provides an essential source of calcium for healthy bones and teeth, and B vitamins for energy however milk isn’t the only source of these nutrients. In fact there are a number of delicious options to choose from that your child is more than likely already eating. Children under the age of one should be consuming milk as their primary source of nutrition but for a child approaching two you can rest assured that, as long as your child is receiving calcium from foods other than milk, she will be getting in enough of the good stuff.

There are also a number of other foods that you can offer to your little one that provide an excellent source of calcium beyond the usual dairy-based suspects. These include; seeds (including other seed-based foods like tahini), beans and lentils, edamame and tofu, fish products that contain edible bones (tinned salmon, sardines and fish paste), leafy greens (like spinach and kale), broccoli, sweet potatoes, oranges, almonds, calcium fortified orange juice, calcium fortified cereals and grains and calcium fortified non-dairy milk products (like soy and almond milk).

Note that:

  • Cow’s milk and non-dairy milk should never replace breast milk or formula within your child’s first year of life.
  • The above information should never replace the advice of your paed, GP or nurse.
  • Always consult your child’s health care provider before deciding to remove dairy from your child’s diet.
easy fish cake recipe
Lunch / Supper

3-Step Fish Cakes

This super easy recipe is one of my new favourites when it comes to whipping up a healthy protein-packed meal for the family in a matter of minutes. It’s also one of those recipes to keep up your sleeve when you find yourself rummaging through a near empty fridge or pantry!

These fish cakes are gluten-free and can be made using a veriety of fish, veggies, fresh herbs and spices (depending on what combination you can concoct using the ingredients you already have). If you’re using tinned salmon, I would recommend using a hand blender to mash up the edible bones good and proper. Other fish that works really well is smoked fish like salmon, snoek, trout or makerel (making sure that all bones are removed). Tinned crab or shredded crabsticks could work really well too. If you would like to use fresh, raw fish, adjust the cooking time to make double sure that the cakes are well cooked through before serving.

They’re ideal for little hands to hold and a scrumptious way to ensure that your little one gets in their recommended weekly dose of fish. By getting creative with the filling ingredients (see some additional suggestions below), means that you can keep things exciting!

Although I used almond flour in this recipe for its nutty taste, you could really make use of any flour you prefer. I would recommend using a food processor to get the vegetables super tiny, which is an awesome trick to get fussy little people to eat their veggies!

What you’ll need:

  • 3 x tins tuna, drained (or 2 cups of any finely diced/minced fish of your choice)
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 2 x free-range eggs
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes 
  • 2 Tbs spring onion or 1/2 red onion
  • 2 Tbs Italian parsley
  • 1 heaped tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp herb salt
  • 3-4 cracks black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • Juice of 1/2 a large lemon
  • 2-3 Tbs coconut oil or olive oil for frying

Method:

  1. Prep your veggies: place the red pepper, cherry tomatoes, onions and parsley into a food processor and pulse until finely diced (pour out any liquid after processing).
  2. Get your filling ready: beat the eggs together in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add in the flour, tuna, veggies, herbs, garlic, lemon and spices. Use clean hands to mix all of the ingredients together until well combined.
  3. Ready, steady, cook: heat 1 Tbs of oil in a non-stick pan on a medium-high heat. Take a handful of mixture at a time and then shape it to form a ball. Place it in the pan and press down gently using a spatula. Repeat until you have three patties in the pan. Flip the tuna cakes every three minutes. You want to ensure that they cook right through, so if they start burning turn the heat down slightly. Repeat the process until you have used up all of the mixture, adding more oil to the pan as you go. Total cooking time should be around 6-8 minutes depending on the heat of your stove and the size of the fish cakes.

This recipe makes around 6 fish cakes that are the size of standard hamburger patties. You may prefer to keep them smaller for little ones. Serve with veggies or starch of your choice and something wholesome for dipping like free-range mayo with fresh herbs or homemade tomato sauce.

Other filling choices could include; caramelised onion, dill, coriander, grated cheese, crumbled feta, cooked corn/peas, grated carrot, grated zucchini, green pepper, pineapple.

For more healthy and delicious recipes for the entire family, get your copy of Hungry Little Monkey’s eBook here.

* The above recipe will need to be adapted, should your child have an allergy to any of the ingredients mentioned.

Sugar & Salt

The Lowdown on Artificial Sweeteners

Are artificial sweeteners really safe for kids?

It has been drummed into our heads that sugar is the devil, sure to mould our kids into hyper-active little monsters with weakened immune systems, rotten teeth and short attention spans. It seems only logical to avoid anything with sugar and to go for sweet tasting, ‘healthier’ substitutes instead.

What has been the cause for much debate is that when unnatural and processed sugar replacements are consumed in bulk, they may pose more of a health risk to growing little people.

According to a recent study published by the Journal of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, consumption of artificial sweeteners in children is up by 200%. This can largely be attributed to the increasing number of food and drink choices containing artificial sweeteners and the amount of artificially sweetened products being bought and consumed in homes.

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has approved six artificial sweeteners for consumption. These include; aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame-k, saccharin, neotame and advantame. The FDA has also approved the consumption of the natural sweeteners in the form of stevia, xylitol and erythritol*

*Note that while these can technically be regarded as natural in source, they are generally manufactured using chemical processes or from GMO containing sources.

(For more on the differences between the approved artifical sweeteners, you can have a look here.)

Too much of a ‘good’ thing?

Beyond sugar-free fizzy drinks, artificial sweeteners can be found in most ‘diet’, ‘low calorie’ and ‘light’ products from sweets and chocolates, to yoghurts, cordials, puddings, ice-cream, spreads, cereals, protein powders, milk powders, snack bars, sauces and salad dressings (however research shows that both adults and children are more likely to consume the bulk of artificial sweeteners through fizzy drinks).

For each of the approved sweeteners, the FDA has set acceptable daily intake levels (ADI’s), where the amounts have been based on safe levels per kilogram of body weight. The good news is that the ADI’s that have been set are, in fact, 100 times lower than levels that can cause toxicity (to shed some light here, an adult would need to consume anywhere from 6-30 cans of a diet fizzy drink daily or between 9-5000 sweetener sachets daily to reach the ADI). Important to keep in mind is that children will naturally have a lower tolerance than adults based on kilogram per body weight.

For more on ADI’s and levels of toxicity for the different artificial sweeteners you can read more here. 

The American Association of Dietetics has stated that it is safe for children to consume a small amount of artificial sweeteners, as long as they stay within the ADI’s according to their weight and are eating a whole and balanced diet. 

According to the ADI’s, a 15-kilogram toddler could consume just under 4 cans of diet fizzy drinks or 21 sachets of sweetener containing aspartame, daily. This seems like a pretty high amount of aspartame for a child, which begs the question: are ADI’s enough to go by?

Even though artificial sweeteners have been approved for consumption and more recent studies have not shown any cause for concern, further studies will need to be done to determine the long-term effects on children.

Making smart & healthy choices

While artificial sweeteners have a role to play in the lives of children with diabetes, growing children require a certain number of calories daily to sustain their growing and developmental needs. By opting for zero and low-calorie food and beverage choices, you may be depriving your child of their necessary daily energy intake. Parents need to understand that artificially sweetened products are highly processed, generally contain a lot of other added nasties and fail to contain adequate nutrition for children.

Artificial sweeteners can lead to intestinal problems such as bloating or gas, especially in immature digestive systems, so best to keep an eye on how your little one reacts to food or drinks that have any added artificial sweeteners. In the case of putting your little one on a diet including restricted calorie foods, always be sure to consult with your health care provider before doing so.

Although only small amounts of artificial sweeteners are needed to create a level of sweetness that is equivalent to sugar (they can be anywhere up to 20 000 times sweeter than sugar), experts caution that artificial sweeteners can lead to children developing a taste preference for very sweet foods and drinks. If children are being given the option of drinking sweet diet fizzy drinks, they are hardly going to opt for water or milk when given the choice.

Parents need to remember that healthy eating habits start in the home. If artificially sweetened products dominate your kitchen cupboards, your child will grow up in an environment where choosing processed foods and drinks is the norm. If you want your child to opt for natural and whole choices, parents should aim to set the example with their own eating habits.

Sweet alternatives

While small amounts of artificial sweeteners may be safe, opt for natural sweetness wherever possible. Consider raw honey**, unprocessed maple syrup, unsweetened fruit purees and jams, coconut sugar, raw sugar and dates in place of refined sugar. Although natural, it is important not to overdo any of these as some easily contain the same number of calories as sugar. Keep in mind that added sugars (including natural alternatives) should be limited to six teaspoons daily for children. 

When considering natural sweeteners approved by the FDA, opt for non GMO xylitol and natural stevia (be sure to check packaging to look out for any added nasties) and use them sparingly.

 My two cents…

Everything in moderation.

Be the one to determine whether your little one needs some quality extra nutrients and whether they are consuming too many unnatural products in their diet. Strive for a diet rich in variety that is as whole and natural as possible, and you won’t need to lose sleep at night worrying about the small amount of sweetener your child may have consumed that day.

**Honey should never be given to children under the age of one due to the risk of infant botulism.

The above information should never replace the advice of your GP, Paed or Nurse.

carrot hummus recipe, healthy snack idea
Sides

Carrot Hummus

If you’re looking for some healthy snack inspiration for kids and the rest of the family, then look no further.

My son, in typical toddler fashion, isn’t big on trying many new things in his diet these days. One thing he loves however is to dip just about anything: from pieces of meat, chicken and cheese to carrot batons (we are working on the cucumber and tomatoes but I’ll take what I can get at the moment!).

He also happens to be a big fan of hummus.

In my endless quest to sneak veggies into his diet and to find healthy snack ideas for my child and the rest of the family, I whipped together this truly delicious carrot hummus recipe together in a matter of minutes. This is the type of snack that you can prepare ahead of time and store in the fridge before use (the hummus can be stored in an airtight container in the frige for up to 1 week).

By roasting the carrots in the oven before adding them to the chickpeas, creates a delicious and naturally sweet taste. The chickpeas pack in a powerful punch of protein while the carrots provide an excellent dose of beta-carotene, making this a truly nutritious snack.

Whether you have a six month old who has recently discovered solids, a busy toddler or a fussy teenager, this is a super simple and healthy side dish that can be enjoyed by the entire family. For young babies it is best to remove the skins from the carrots (for easier digestion) but for older children, the skins can be left on (for some added nutrients).

What you’ll need:

  • 1 x tin chickpeas, drained
  •  1 heaped cup carrot batons (around 300g)
  • 1 heaped tsp cumin seeds
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • ½ small lemon, juiced
  • ¼ tsp herb salt*
  • ¼ tsp minced garlic
  • 2-3 cracks black pepper
  • 2 Tbs olive oil plus 1 tsp for roasting

*Herb salt can be added for toddlers and older children. For babies starting solids, it is best to skip the salt.

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C
  • Place the carrots on a baking tray, sprinkle over the cumin seeds and paprika and toss with 1 tsp olive oil
  • Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes
  • Place the carrots, the chickpeas, olive oil, black pepper, herb salt and lemon juice in a food processor and process until the desired consistency (younger children are likely to tolerate a smooth texture, while older children are more likely to tolerate a chunky consistency)
  • Serve thus yummy carrot hummus with your choice whole-wheat crackers, veggie batons, cheese strips or even spread on a sandwich

*The above will need to be adapted should your child have an allergy to any of the ingredients mentioned.

*Never leave your child unsupervised while eating.

My Shopping List

Coconut Flour

This ingredient is one of the biggest health buzzwords at the moment – found in so many recipes and on the shelves of most (if not all) grocery and health stores – and for many, it isn’t entirely clear what all the fuss is about.

So why is coconut flour healthy for children (and the rest of the family), what are the benefits of coconut flour and why should you be using it?

You would have seen that I love using it in my baking recipes and it’s not only because of its incredible taste (if you’re into coconut!) but also because this powdery goodness is crammed with nutrients.

It is naturally gluten-free and contains more fibre and protein than wheat flour. It is also an excellent source of healthy fats known as MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) which boost metabolism and provide an excellent source of energy for growing little people. Studies have shown that coconut flour also has a more moderate effect on blood sugar than grain-based flours and is therefore an excellent choice for diabetics and for maintaining energy levels (less sugar spikes!).

If you are baking with coconut flour (or would like to substitute wheat flour for coconut flour), remember that it soaks up moisture so you’ll need to play around with the amount of oil or eggs you use (you generally need around 3 eggs per cup of coconut flour). Coconut flour can also be delicious when used to thicken curries and in savoury dishes like vegetable fritters.

You certainly don’t need to use coconut flour in every single recipe in place of your regular grain-based flour (unless you want to of course!) but it provides a delicious and healthy way to mix things up.

Check out the following recipes to be inspired and I’ll do my best to keep some more coming:

Banana & Date Bread (Gluten-Free)

Oat Crunchies

 

 

dealing with fussy eating toddlers
fussy eating

The ‘No Plan B’ Approach

How to deal with fussy eating to prevent mealtimes from becoming stressful in your home…

As a mom who loves talking about nourishing children with only the healthiest ingredients, and yet I have a toddler whom is going through an extremely fussy-eating phase, I find myself questioning whether I have actually done enough to ensure that my son has been exposed to enough of the healthy stuff.

Lately I find myself increasingly frustrated at my son’s refusal to try anything new, anything healthy and anything that hasn’t been crumbed or deep-fried. Like most parents, I worry that he isn’t getting in enough quality nutrients and that, if I don’t give him what he enjoys eating, he will go hungry.

After conducting some research on this topic around picky eating in toddlers and chatting to my paed, it is comforting to know that this phase is totally normal and can last up until our little ones are five years old. This is all information that I had already read about however, when a parent is experiencing it first-hand, our better judgement becomes clouded by the usual paranoia when it concerns one’s own child.

In one of my last posts, I discussed top ten tips for dealing with fussy easting but something I wanted to talk about specifically in this post is based on some advice I recently received. It’s something I am guilty of doing constantly and I know most parents are guilty of it too: when our kids refuse to eat their meals, we start serving them up something else that we think they’ll like, purely to get some food into their little bellies. We launch straight into ‘selling’ different dishes – anything other than the offending meal in question – describing food as excitedly as possibly, like a cordon bleu trained waiter eager to to get our tiny patron to sample anything.

This is the ‘Plan B’ – the substitute meal – or the Plan, C, D, E and F in many cases of sheer desperation.

The problem with this approach is that your child quickly learns that if they don’t like what is put in front of them, they will eventually be served up something that they do actually like: a logical connection for children and as they enter their toddler years and discover the novelty of calling the shots.

I have witnessed this first-hand in my own household: my son has worked out that he can simply ask for toast or crackers (or something he equally enjoys), in place of the nutritious plate of chicken and veggies sitting in front of him, and mama will magically make them appear. So while I understand that fussy eating is common in toddlers, after taking a step back and looking at my actions, I realise that my own behaviour has not helped the situation.

This is one of the biggest reasons, I believe, that my son feels he can call the shots when it comes to mealtimes and something that needs undoing if I want to start instilling better eating habits in him.

If, like me, you are concerned that your child is going to starve – something that is quite a controversial topic when it comes to dealing with fussy eating – here are a few tactics that I have researched, which I have started putting into practice in my own home:

  • Make the change and stick with it. As with everything else when it comes to raising little people, they need time to adjust to change and you need the patience that goes along with it. You are going to experience a few tears and tantrums along the way but soon your child will realise that they can’t always have it their way when it comes to mealtimes. Your child will soon learn that if they don’t eat the meal placed in front of them, they will need to wait until the next meal or snack time to eat again.
  • Always be mindful about what your child needs. Sometimes your child may have a genuine disliking toward a certain meal and you shouldn’t force it on them. That is not what this approach is about – rather it’s about exposing them to new and nutritious foods by breaking them out of a cycle of only being served a limited number of favourite or ‘safe’ foods.
  • Remove food after 20-30 minutes. Provide them with enough of an opportunity to eat their meal but remove it after some time. This will assist with their understanding that they need to eat during specific mealtimes or else they will need to wait until their next meal or snack.
  • Follow a routine when it comes to meal and snack times to assist your child with pre-empting when he or she will next be fed. If your child is fed erratically and constantly throughout the day (even if meals are smaller), they will soon learn that, if they don’t eat the meal in front of them, there will be something else to eat immediately afterwards. You should be aiming for three main meals and two snacks (one mid morning and one in the afternoon).
  • When offering your little one a new food, serve it up with something familiar. This will instill a level of comfort to avoid overwhelming your child i.e.: if your child has always shied away from leafy greens, but always been a fan of potato, serve the two together.
  • Serve two courses. Follow a meal with something sweet and healthy like some fresh fruit or fruit purèe. This will ensure that your child won’t go hungry if they flat-out refuse to eat their main meal, and that they’ll be getting in some quality nutrients.
  • Keep things exciting. If your child point blank refuses to eat the meal your prepared for them yesterday, wait a few days before serving it up again, and when you do, serve it up in a different way.
  • Take it slow. If you find that your child is becoming increasingly stressed at mealtimes as with your new ‘No Plan B’ approach, only try new foods every second day to give them a break.
  • Get family and caregivers on board. If you are relying on others to care for your child, you need to ensure that they are following the same approach as in your home.
  • Remove distractions. This is something that I have pointed out in my previous posts and yet something I am guilty of during many mealtimes. If you want to give your child the best shot of engaging with different foods, you need to turn off the TV, iPad, phone, toys and just about anything that is going to cause too much of a distraction.
  • Know when to seek professional help: if you are genuinely concerned that your child is not growing and developing as a result of their fussy eating, consult your medical advisor.

I hope you found this approach on dealing with fussy eating helpful – keep a look out for more posts like this one as I navigate my way through my toddler’s picky eating phase. For other posts on Fussy eating, have a look at; Top 10 Tips for Dealing with a Fussy Eater, Fussy Eating 101 and Mindful Parenting & Fussy Eating.

*The above information should never replace the advice of your paed, nurse or GP.

Lunch / Supper

Sticky Chicken

If you’re looking for a quick and healthy dish that the family will love, then this recipe is one worth trying.

A dish that you will find in most Jewish households on a Friday night is Sticky Chicken and it’s no wonder that it is a family favourite – its delicious, sticky and super sweet. The problem is that it is loaded with sugar and all the additives found in most ready-made sauces (probably one of the biggest reasons that it is loved so much!).

Looking at some sticky chicken recipes and all the unhealthy ingredients that go into making it, I decided to make my own healthy version the dish.

This really is a super easy recipe and can be served up as a healthy meal for the entire family. Portions can also be frozen and defrosted in the fridge ahead of serving it up.

If you would prefer to use chicken on the bone instead of breasts, increase your oven baking time by 20 minutes and brown the pieces in a pan with a little olive oil before baking them. Use this marinade for easy chicken kebabs or even for red meat, fish and tofu too (adjusting your cooking time as needed)!

What you’ll need:

  • 6-8 free-range chicken breasts
  • 1 cup Passata sauce
  • 1 Tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 Tin peaches in fruit juice (no sugar added)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 Tbs vinegar
  • Juice of 1/2 a large lemon
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 tsp Herbamare or celery salt
  • 4-5 cracks black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic

To serve:

  • 2 Tbs finely chopped spring onion
  • 1 Tbs sesame seeds

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 180°C
  • Bring all the sauce ingredients to the boil in a medium sauce pan.
  • Allow to simmer for 35-40 minutes until the sauce has reduced by about half and is sticky in consistency.
  • Remove the mixture from the heat and remove the bay leaves.
  • Purée the mixture using a hand blender (the sauce can be slightly lumpy, no need to be totally smooth).
  • Place the chicken into a casserole dish and pour over the sauce.
  • Bake in the oven for 40 minutes.

Slice the chicken breast into pieces and toss together with the sauce. Sprinkle over the spring onion and sesame seeds (if your little one doesn’t mind them!) and serve over rice, veggies, whole-wheat noodles or baked potato. Enjoy!

*The above recipe will need to be adapted should your child have an allergy to any of the ingredients mentioned.
*Never leave your child unsupervised when eating.
Sweet Treats

Date & Coconut Squares

If you’re on the look-out for a sweet and healthy snack for little ones, without the added sugar or preservatives, then try this no-bake recipe…

I’m constantly looking for healthy treats to serve up at play dates, as an energy boosting snack or something for little fingers to hold on-the-go. Most importantly, I want ideas that are easy to make and won’t have me slaving away in the kitchen for hours.

What I love about this recipe is that it includes a mix of super healthy ingredients, delicious flavour, and it packs a powerful punch of antioxidants and good fats for growing little people.

Apart from toasting the coconut, this recipe includes no other cooking – simply pop them into the refrigerator and you’re done! I have opted to toast the coconut as it adds a delicious taste to this recipe although the recipe still works without this step.

You could choose to roll this mixture into balls or you can cut them into squares like I have done in this recipe. You can opt for any sugar-free nut butter and if your child is younger than one, leave the honey out – the result will be equally delicious.

What you’ll need:

  • 2 cups desiccated coconut
  • 2 cups pitted dates
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1/4 cup sugar-free nut butter
  • 1/4 cup goji berries
  • 1 Tbs cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbs cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs honey
  • 1/4 cup water (for mixing)

Method:

  • Toast the desiccated coconut on a baking tray in the oven for five minutes at 180°C, until golden brown (keeping an eye on it to ensure it doesn’t burn).
  • Combine all the ingredients, expect the water, in a food processor. Turn the speed on high and process until well mixed and there is no sign of large pieces (you want to make sure that you don’t have big pieces of nuts, which could be a choking hazard for your child). While you process the mixture, add little amounts of the water at a time to assist with the mixing (and to create a gooey texture).
  • Transfer the mixture onto a medium-sized square dish/baking tin, lined with wax paper and then push it down with your hands to pack the mixture in densely.
  • Pop the dish into the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut the mixture into squares.
  • These treats can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or the freezer. If storing in the refrigerator, use within two weeks.

*The above recipe will need to be adapted should your child have an allergy to any of the ingredients mentioned.

*Never leave your child unsupervised while eating.

Food Allergies, Nutrition 101

Gluten & Wheat-Free Living

Recent statistics have shown that gluten intolerance and celiac disease are very widespread conditions however many of those affected walk around without even realising it: some children don’t always show all the tell-tale symptoms, making it tricky to diagnose. It’s no wonder we hear stories about parents who go through the run-around, over prolonged periods, trying to get to the bottom of their child’s ailments!

We hear a lot about households going gluten-free or wheat-free, but when is it really necessary and what should you know about it?  

It all starts with understanding what you are dealing with and how to get to the bottom of it:

Celiac disease is a type of gluten intolerance and a hereditary disease affecting around 1 in 100 people. It is an autoimmune disorder, which means that the body will actually attack gluten (a protein found in what, rye, barley to name a few) in the intestine, causing inflammation and impacting nutrient absorption. As a result, damage is done to the walls of the small intestine, and in serious cases it may result in malnourishment and could even be fatal if left untreated.

Wheat allergy is an immune reaction to one of the many proteins found in wheat, whereby the body’s immune system will attack wheat and cause an allergic reaction. It is an extremely common allergy which children tend to outgrow (along with other allergies by the age of 5).

Non-celiac gluten intolerance is not an immune response nor is it an allergic reaction but is a blanket term to describe other adverse reactions to gluten in the body. It has become more common over the years due to a higher number of different foods including gluten, an increased gluten content in modern-day grains and overuse of antibiotics, which lead to poor gut absorption of gluten.

How to diagnose your child? 

While celiac disease and non-celiac gluten intolerance have very similar symptoms –  cramping, diarrhea and constipation, joint pain, headaches, and fatigue – symptoms of a wheat allergy are very distinct: itching, hives, trouble breathing or anaphylaxis.

While celiac disease and wheat allergy can be ruled out with blood screening and skin-prick tests respectively, non-celiac gluten intolerance can only be diagnosed by ruling out other allergies, and then eliminating  gluten from the diet. If you feel as though you simply aren’t getting to the bottom of the problem after undergoing some of the key diagnostic tests mentioned, keep a food diary and track how your child reacts to certain foods in order to identify the culprit in the diet.

If you suspect that your child may be intolerant to gluten to wheat, make an appointment with your health care practitioner immediately to get the right diagnosis and guidance.

Note: Gluten-free living has been recommended by experts for children with neurological disorders like Autism, Cerebral Palsy and ADHD as part of their therapy treatment program, and to assist with ailments such as chronic diarrhea and stomach cramps (amongst others).

Living without gluten or wheat

After finally having gotten to the bottom of what is causing your child’s ailments, it’s time to tackle how to go about your living your lives and it all seems a little over-whelming.

You need to remember that it is up to you to make this transition as seamless as possible for your little person, and it starts with choosing an approach that best suits your household. At the end of the day, you need to do what is right your family: some families prefer to buy gluten or wheat-free products only for the affected child, while others prefer to banish all offending foods from the household entirely.

There is no right or wrong way (unless you have received strict instructions from your health care practitioner), and factors like the severity of your child’s allergy or intolerance, along with their age (and ability to understand) and other family diet restrictions will ultimately guide your decision.

It is important to become aware of foods containing wheat or gluten, and to always double-check ingredients on food labels (sometimes gluten and wheat can be found in unexpected foods and even foods claiming to be gluten or wheat-free). While gluten is found in the obvious culprits –  like bread, pasta, some oats, crackers, cereals, biscuits, cakes, cous-cous, spelt, barley – it can also be found in the less obvious foods like lunch meat, marinades, soya sauce, sweets and even in some personal care products like lip balm.

There are so many gluten and wheat-free food options available in health stores,  regular grocery stores and in many restaurants that – more than ever –  we are spoilt for choice. Almond, chickpea, rice and coconut flour are amongst other excellent alternatives to conventional flour and can be used in most cooking and baking recipes.

Without gluten and wheat-containing foods, you will need to ensure that your child is getting in enough fibre, iron and B vitamins through a healthy, balanced diet of fruit,  meat, eggs, dairy, leafy greens and alternate grain sources like rice and corn.

Get organised, get creative and get clued-up and soon gluten or wheat-free living will be a natural part of your child’s lifestyle!

To find out more information about celiac disease, non-celiac gluten intolerance or wheat allergy, read further here.

*The above should never replace the advice of your paed, GP or nurse.