child nutrition
Health and safety

Child nutrition

Consultant dietitian Sarah Keogh offers her expertise on how to instill good nutrition habits to your kids’ diet and lifestyle.

When it comes to child nutrition, the questions on the forefront of every parents mind are – how do you get children to eat vegetables?How do you break the cycle of chicken nuggets, waffles and sausages? How do you get them to eat a breakfast that is not soaked in sugar?

Parents are often torn between getting them to eat healthy food and getting them to eat anything. Luckily, there is quite a bit you can do to get kids to adapt to good habits.

Here, we take a look at a few diet changes that you and your family can introduce into your current lifestyle.

1. Cut Sugar

Sugar is big news at the moment, with claims that it causes everything from obesity to cancer. Sugar isn’t quite as bad as you might be led to believe, but at the same time, most of us are eating far too much.

As far as kids go, the big problem with sugar is the impact that it has on their teeth. The more sugar kids eat, the more tooth decay they get. This can lead to children as young as three having fillings or even teeth pulled by the dentist. Older teeth arrive around the age of six, and yet these teeth have to last a lifetime. Reducing sugar is a key place to start for healthy teeth.

Limit sugary cereals. If your kids are big into sugar-coated, heavily-sweetened cereals, it’s time to pull back. You don’t have to ban them entirely, but start by cutting them down to a set number of days per week. Another approach is to keep very sweet cereals as weekend treats. Try to go for more whole grain cereals like porridge, muesli (with no added sugar), and high fibre cereals.

2. Add More Fruit and Veg

When it comes to changing what kids eat, it is better to make gradual changes over a few weeks or months – as opposed to making a sudden or dramatic change to their diet. You don’t have to ban chicken nuggets and the like but you can serve them with vegetables or salad. You can also offer fruit at breakfast time and as part of their lunch box.

Apparently, it takes 16 ‘tries’ for a child to accept a new food. Sometimes you just have to keep offering small amounts until the child is ready to eat.

3. Eat More Iron

In the region of 30 per cent of five to 12 year olds don’t eat enough iron, and this goes up to 79 per cent of teenage girls. Being low in iron makes children feel tired, irritable and can actually drop their IQ.

Have a look at how many iron-rich foods your kids eat and follow the tips below to make sure your kids are getting what they need. Make sure your children are getting iron-rich foods, two meals a day or more.

Try an iron-fortified breakfast cereal in the morning, hummus in sandwiches at lunchtime and Bolognese at dinner. Snacks like dried fruit and nuts can help to boost iron, or you can try adding milled pumpkin and sunflower seeds to yoghurt and cereals. Try adding milled pumpkin and sunflower seeds to breadcrumbs when making fish pies or breaded chicken.

Serve green vegetables at most dinners to get kids into the habit of eating them regularly.

Boost iron-absorption by adding a food rich in vitamin C to each meal. Fruit and vegetables are a great source of vitamin C, so offer fruit or a small glass (150mls) of fruit juice at breakfast. Also, add some salad, fruit or vegetable sticks to lunch and always serve veg at dinner. Try kale crisps. If you don’t tell them what they are, they will rarely guess.

4. Do It Yourself

Kids do what you do and not what you say. Studies show that the best way to get children to eat healthy food is for parents to set a good example and to eat it too. Try to eat healthy meals yourself with lots of vegetables and salad and choose high fibre breakfast cereals.

Children like to do things that ‘grownups’ do so let them see that grown-ups eat healthy food. Also, remember to eat with your kids as much as you can. Eating as a family has a huge impact on how well children eat. It’s not just about food – this is a great way to catch up with your child’s day and to spend some time actually talking to each other. If they happen to eat well at the same time, then that’s a bonus.

Sarah’s top tips on nutrition for kids

✔ Add carrots, onions, turnips and leeks to stews, casseroles and shepherds pies

✔ Grate carrot into sauces like bolognese and chili-con-carne

✔ Put carrot sticks or cucumber sticks into lunch boxes or serve them sitting in a glass of water at dinner time.

✔ Try making parsnip crisps. They are a great way to get hungry kids to eat veg.

✔ Encourage your kids to make salads. Younger children can tear up lettuce leaves and pour on a dressing. They can mix up chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs. They may not always eat it but handling food helps get kids more familiar with foods and, over time, more likely to eat them.

✔ Plant some herbs. Herbs grow easily in pots on your windowsill and then kids can add them to meals and salads. Kids are more interested in food if they have grown and cooked it themselves.

✔ Bribe them. This works, but it’s best not to bribe them with the promise of dessert. A star chart can work wonders. They get a star every time they try a piece of the veg served with a meal (don’t force them to eat it all). When they have five or ten stars, they get a reward (a trip to the cinema, a movie night, a voucher for a toy shop). Vouchers can work well – a €5 voucher that they can earn every month can add up to a nice toy. See what their interest and your finances can handle.

✔ Offer soup when they come in from school. This is a time they are often hungry and they are more likely to try a new food when hunger is in charge. Vegetable soups are a great way to get kids to take their five-aday.

Iron-Rich Foods

• Red meat
• Chicken and turkey legs (not breast)
• Eggs
• Spinach
• Kale
• Cabbage
• Baked beans
• Chickpeas
• Lentils
• Pumpkin seeds
• Raisins
• Hazelnuts
• Breakfast cereals fortified with iron

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Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

A
In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.

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Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

A
In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.