International School Meal Day is here to celebrate the wonderful, nutritious food that is grown in all countries and to help us parents in making healthy meals for picky kids. This day highlights how healthy eating can be affordable to all. It is a day that has been around since 2013, making this the ninth year
As a single mum, I sometimes struggle with the endless pressure of choosing healthy food, recipes and working within my budget. So this day is an interesting one for me and hopefully you.
Theme for 2021 ‘Eat for the health of it’
The 2021 ISMD theme is; ‘exploring affordable, nutritious foods and links between food and nutrition and children’s physical and mental health’. Basically, a great big thumbs up to giving our child a carrot stick whilst they jump around. But there is a lot more involved in a healthy, affordable diet than a carrot stick, so grab a green tea, sit down and lets talk about it.
I was lucky enough to be raised knowing my fruit and veg and why it is important to incorporate these into my diet. Not everyone is so fortunate. Working in a school, I have realized that some children’s diets are sadly lacking in the fresh stuff.
Do you talk to your child about food? About how some food is bad for us and some amazing for both our physical and mental health? It can be a really good idea to do so, especially when they are young and still interested in listening to their mum!
With the rise of social media, food can also often be associated with a negative body image. It is our job as parents to educate our children differently and help promote a healthy body image and attitude toward food.
How to talk healthy meals to your picky kids
None of us parents like lecturing our children. And our children sure let us know that they do not want to be lectured! My son gives me many an eye roll when I am trying to inform him on something. So with food, we need to make sure we approach healthy eating/meals right from when they start eating solids. They will then develop a likening for it and will not be picky kids!
Ideas for talking about food to your child
- Sit down with your child and talk about your favorite foods.
- What have they learnt about food at school?
- Does your child like to cook?
- What foods make them feel better, have more energy and concentrate more at school.
- Come up with some meal and snack ideas to make together
- Write shopping lists together
- Give your child choices, so they realize the variety of food that is healthy
‘Eat for the health of it’
Educating yourself and your child and having fun at the same time.
If left to children to decide their food plate, most would be filled with starch and sugar. A good way to visually educate them is to show them the ‘ideal food plate’ and how we should be filling it.
- 1/2 vegetable
- 1/4 protein
- 1/4 whole grains
I know what some of us will be thinking. A big, negative ‘How will my picky kid eat healthy meals?’ For those with toddlers, you are best off starting at this age. Only introduce healthy foods. Leave sugar out of the equation. My son didn’t even have sugar until he was two but I admit it was trickier with my daughter who saw her older brother with these ‘treats’ and wanted to participate. My solution? They both ate sugary snacks, not as a treat but with the knowledge it would only be bought occasionally. ‘Treats’ were snacks like nuts, toast and honey, melon etc. I definitely found it easier to say no if the sugary snacks were not in the house.
We all know that it is easy to fail when it comes to our eating habits. If it is a case of trying to reverse a bad eating habit in a child, this can be tricky and challenging. Instead of all out warfare, give yourself and your child small goals. For example, cut out one sugary drink a day and replace it with water or milk. Do this regularly at the same time of day and your mind will eventually make this a habit. Small steps!
To succeed in changing eating habits that are already engrained in children, set yourself up for success. Go shopping with your child and choose a wide variety of healthy snacks. So when you are heading into dangerous territory at home when they want some sugar or a bad carb, offer up a selection of alternatives. Its best to plan ahead and arm yourself with the knowledge that your child likes the snacks on offer.
Picky kids – choose healthy meals to lead by example
I remember when my children were little, I would ‘hide’ in the kitchen and try to quietly open a sugary snack. Then I would often hear play stop and the pitter, patter of tiny feet coming into the kitchen and an inquisitive face peering round to see what mummy was eating. This often resulted in me sharing my snacks.
The best thing I could have done at this time would have been to follow the same diet I set my children. We all ate the same meals but I definitely indulged in more treats than I allowed them. When children are older, this does not work well. Us parents need to lead by example. So now, my son and I have the same diet. When I have a snack, he has one too. We both eat healthily together and this solidarity helps us both in our journey to healthy living.
Affordable, nutritious foods
I do hear a lot of people say they can’t afford to eat healthily. There is definitely an image portrayed by celebrities that healthy eating is all about shopping at the exclusive, expensive organic store and consuming multiple, expensive supplements. This is an option, of course but it is definitely not the only one and is also not affordable to most. Why not make a trip together to your local market? Or even greengrocers. There will always be some fresh food on offer that children do not recognise. This is a great way of discovering new, healthy foods.
We do live in a time where nutritious food is affordable. And luckily for us, a lot of these affordable foods make great snacks. Below is a list of great, cheap food.
- Frozen berries – far cheaper than their fresh counterpart
- Dried cranberries
- Cauliflower – this can also be made into rice or a pizza base
- Whole lettuce – instead of buying a bag
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole chicken or chicken with the bone in
- Canned tuna
The link between food and physical and mental health
When talking to and learning about food with our children, International School Meal day says that it is important that we make the link between healthy bodies and healthy minds. Mental health problems can manifest themselves at any stage in their lives and can show up in our bodies in ways like headaches and tiredness. Likewise, physical injury can cause depression and anxiety.
With our children, we can demonstrate the link between food and physical health in ways that will resonate with them. Most active children enjoy running, riding their bike, playing games with friends and doing PE in school. I know my son wants to be a footballer when he is older. So, we have had conversations about the diet of professional athletes and what junk food can do to their bodies. We have discussed how it feels when we eat junk food and how quickly we feel hungry again. The meaning of empty calories makes sense to children when they see a relation to what they eat and how it makes them feel.
A bit harder to demonstrate to a child is the link between food and mental health but we can teach it to them. For example, how good and clear our mind feels when we have eaten a healthy snack or meal and how we sometimes get headaches after eating too much sugar. After eating heavily processed food like fast food burger chains, we can feel heavy and not happy so this would be a good time to talk to children about how they are feeling compared to how they feel after a healthy meal. There is a link between processed food and depression so it make’s sense that our mood would be altered after consuming fast food. When children get to a certain age, they will be able to recognise this.
International healthy meals for picky kids
Children learn best through interaction. Shopping and cooking together can build family relationships and create and foster an interest in freshly cooked food. This is a great time to look at food consumed around the world and find new, fresh and cheap ingredients. Here, I have included recipes from around the world with cheap ingredients that may be new to some. Street food is also very popular now and also teaches us about the cultures of the world. This food is often cooked fresh and fast so many of the ingredients will be cheap vegetables, rice, noodles or potatoes.
School meals now incorporate a wider variety of ingredients and cuisine. The aim is to make school dinners healthier and to introduce new ingredients to children. International School Meal Day aims to promote international flavors, cheap, wholesome ingredients and to get children and parents interested in cooking together. Let’s visit our local markets with our children and look at the prices of the cheap ingredients listed above. Its surprising how much you can buy for your money and how much fun we can have with our children.
Healthy cooking on a budget!