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.
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.