It’s January, the traditional month for making (and breaking) resolutions. This ‘out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new’ feeling always makes the new year seem like the perfect time to make a change for the better, whether it’s being organised, having the family eating healthier meals, or getting the gang exercising more.
The question, then, is what resolutions to choose. I’m not going to think about those just targeting the grownups. Instead, this is a great opportunity to make a change that’s healthy for the whole family.
Smaller changes for bigger benefits
You may think that my suggestions are quite small changes to make. ‘Why not overhaul my whole eating plan?’ I often hear people say. The unfortunate fact is that making any change to our everyday habits takes willpower, and some psychological research suggests that we only have a limited amount of this precious resource. So if we attempt to make too many changes at once, our willpower stores may be overloaded – we will be setting ourselves up to fail. Better to start with small changes, and then keep them up until they have become a habit. Then we can use the sweet feeling of success to spur ourselves on to the next small change. You can read more about this and other research into willpower on the American Psychological Association’s information webpage listed below.
One other thing to note: While January is a fabulous time to plan changes, it may not be the best time to put them into practice if you and your family are firmly in holiday mode. You might find it easier to wait a few weeks until life is back to normal, and you’re back in your work/school/childcare routine.
Resolutions for everyone
So what resolution could we choose to benefit all the family? Here are some ideas. This is not a list of all the resolutions you could make – otherwise, the article would never end! Instead, these are a few suggestions based on issues that commonly occur in both parents’ and children’s eating patterns.
More vegetables and/or fruit
You’ll probably know if your family has trouble fitting in enough fruit or vegetables. Mine does well on the fruit front, but I’d often describe our vegetable intake as ‘just enough’. And we do often rely on the same few veg over and over again, partly because there aren’t many that all my kids agree on. Adding more quantity of fruit or veg is one strategy, but variety is also vital. A few ideas that may help include:
- Visit the supermarket or fruit shop and let your child choose a veg or fruit they haven’t tried before. Serve their choice to all the family with great fanfare!
- Serve vegetables at times other than the evening meal, such as cherry tomatoes with a lunchtime sandwich, or carrot sticks with hummus for an afternoon snack.
- Remember that frozen fruit and vegetables, as well as fruit tinned in juice and vegetables tinned without salt, are also good choices. As well as adding variety for kids, they are also long-lasting, so they can cut waste and add convenience for whoever does the shopping.
- Slightly older children who can manage the sharp ends of skewers will love making fruit kebabs. Start with a bowl of chopped fruits such as pineapple, apple and melon chunks. A squeeze of lemon juice will stop the apple from browning and add a zing of flavour. You could even freeze fruit kebabs for a cool treat on a warm day. And vegetable kebabs, brushed with a little canola oil, are great on the barbecue or under the grill. Variety on a stick!
It can be really tricky to identify foods high in salt, and even harder to reduce the amount we eat. While we think mostly about adults needing to limit the salt they eat, the whole family might as well join in. Everyone stands to benefit because on average both adults and children eat too much salt.
Taking a family approach makes it easier to take the first steps of ditching the salt shaker on the table and not adding salt during cooking. But unfortunately, there’s a lot more to it, because most of the salt we eat is added to our food by someone else – it’s found in the processed, restaurant and takeaway foods we choose. The only way to be sure how much is in processed food is to check the label – sometimes you can get information on takeaway foods as well. As a general guide though, watching out for salty snack foods, eating less cured meats such as bacon and ham, using minimal amounts of (preferably reduced-salt) stocks and sauces, and choosing lower-salt tinned foods will help.
No, I’m not talking about limiting the water we use outside our bodies, but ensuring we put enough into our bodies. Young children are at greater risk of dehydration than adults, especially in hot summer weather and if they’re active. While common symptoms are crankiness and headaches, severe dehydration can be a medical emergency.
I’m very aware of all the different drinks our kids ask for, but water is the first drink we should all reach for to quench our thirst. It’s free of sugars and artificial sweeteners, contains no caffeine, and costs almost nothing out of the tap. Jazz it up with a squeeze of lemon juice, slices of orange, sprigs of mint, ice cubes with berries frozen in them, or by serving fizzy water instead. Milk should be the only other usual drink for most small children.
If you’re not sure how much your little one should be drinking each day, have a look at my November 2022 blog on hydration. And for more information, see the website listed below, which looks at adult fluid requirements as well as children’s.
Be active together
Here’s one non-food idea. And no, this isn’t about the traditional post-New Year gym memberships and jogging schedules. A far better idea is finding activities that mums, dads, grandparents and carers can all enjoy with children. From a walk to the playground to dancing around the house, to digging a vegetable garden, you’re only limited by your imagination!
I hope these ideas inspire you to think of a change that might benefit your family. We’re aiming for a more activity in our house this year. And Santa brought some fun-shaped ice cube moulds, so I’m off to make colourful berry-filled ice cubes to add some pizazz to the water on the dinner table this evening!
If you have any nutrition questions you’d like to hear about in a blog, please pass along a request via your centre manager. And I wish you and your families a very happy new year.
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© Fiona Hinton 2024
MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: Please note that this blog is for general information only, and should not be taken as a substitute for qualified medical advice. Please discuss medical issues with your child’s doctor before taking any action.
About Fiona: Fiona Hinton is a dietitian, but describes herself as a nutrition translator, taking the science of nutrition and translating it into foods we love to eat, to nourish both body and soul. She has over 20 years of experience as a dietitian, working in a wide range of areas from hospital wards to running her own private practice. Fiona has a special interest in children’s nutrition. As a mum of three school-age boys, she has first-hand experience of the issues associated with feeding young children, such as weaning and fussiness. Fiona specialises in real-life strategies and practical suggestions to convert nutrition advice into food kids will eat. Fiona has collaborated on several books, including one with best-selling children’s food writer Annabel Karmel, as well as training childcare staff in children’s nutrition.