7 Easy Food Swaps for Healthy Eating Children
My children have often scuppered my healthy eating plans for them by either point-blank refusing to eat something (annoying), bursting into tears when a lovingly home-cooked meal is put in front of them (insulting), or on one memorable occasion, throwing a plate so high in the air that bits of food stuck to the ceiling and refused to ever come off again (messy).
I’ve learnt that with children, it’s best to introduce them to different foods gradually, for example home-made chicken nuggets paired with their favourite and more familiar potato waffles, home-made sweet potato chips with tinned baked beans or Bolognese with whole-wheat spaghetti rather than white spaghetti. After that you can start to slowly introduce more of the home-made and less of the commercial products.
It’s important to keep trying children with new foods, even if there is a risk that they will refuse to eat it. Otherwise you fall into the trap of giving them the same old food for weeks on end because you assume they won’t eat something different (and healthier). My children quite often surprise me by eating food that I assumed they would turn their little noses up at.
My three year old son is a picky eater, he would live off crisps, sausages, pasta and pizza if I let him. Mealtimes with him can be a battle but on the whole I try to stick to the belief that if he’s hungry he’ll eat what’s put in front of him. I never offer a second, alternative meal if he refuses to even try the food that has been given to him.
I believe that balance and moderation are the key to succeeding with many things, especially with clean-eating. I try to remember that some of the foods that I eat are particularly challenging for children aged three and five years old. I also want them to enjoy their food and associate good memories with food and mealtimes. For this reason, I never force them to eat anything. It is their right to refuse to eat something and I don’t believe that forcing them against their will does anything to help establish healthy eating habits. My mantra is ‘you don’t have to eat it, but you won’t get anything else if you don’t’ and it’s worked quite well for me so far.
Easy food swaps
I’ve made a number of food swaps over the last year to reduce the amount of highly refined food in my children’s diet, swaps that they haven’t even noticed me making.
1. Swap white pasta for whole-wheat pasta
Whole-wheat pasta doesn’t look or taste too different from white pasta, especially when it is coated with a good sauce.
2. Swap white bread for whole-wheat bread
I buy supermarket own brand sliced, brown bread for the children because they don’t like the granary or seeded breads that I eat. I find these sliced breads tasteless but I think this is why the children like them. This is an easy swap to make and can have a big impact on the amount of refined flour they consume in a day.
3. Swap commercial ice-cream for banana ‘ice cream’
If you slice and freeze bananas you can whizz them up in a food processor to make dairy-free, sugar-free ‘ice-cream’. My children love this chocolate ice-cream recipe.
4. Swap sugary puddings for fruit salad
My children love tinned fruit salad, peach slices and mandarin segments (tinned in fruit juice not syrup). They think of the tinned fruit as a pudding because it has a different texture to fresh fruit. I often serve tinned fruit with banana ice cream or home-made jelly.
5. Swap ham for sliced turkey or chicken
My children love ham but I worry about the nitrate preservatives in this processed meat. As an alternative, I occasionally give them roast chicken or turkey slices – this is still processed meat as it is reformed before cooking to give it that texture of ham and it usually contains some form of preservative. It’s not ‘clean’ but at least it doesn’t contain the nitrite preservatives that are increasingly linked to cancer. (Further reading – Natural & Chemical Food Additives).
6. Swap jarred sauces for home-made
The blender is my secret weapon for stealth feeding additional veg into my children. They turn their noses up at a lot of my casseroles, they don’t like big chunks of meat or some of the more challenging vegetables that I use sometimes. But if I take a few ladles of the casserole, remove the meat (if it is a meat dish) and blend it, it makes a delicious pasta sauce. I then thinly slice the meat and top the pasta with it. You’ll be surprised at how delicious this meal can be and my children usually wolf it down. One disadvantage of this method is that the sauce can sometimes be an unappetising colour, if this happens, sprinkle with cheese and voila!
7. Swap crisps for popcorn
Children love popping corn! We often make a big bowl of popcorn together – the children add a handful of kernels each to the pan and help to shake it. I then season it with either a little salt or paprika and we sit and share it while watching a film. Popcorn is classed as a whole-grain and is a healthier alternative to commercial crisps.
A future of good food
It can be hard to help children eat healthily and I believe the key is giving them some choice and control over what they eat. There is such pure joy to be had from watching your precious children eating and enjoying healthy, nutritious, home-cooked food. I really believe that making the effort now can help children to grow up with a healthy and adventurous attitude to food.
Published by Sonia Nicholas