Teaching children about healthy food choices: SA's top chefs share their tips

Let's join Jamie Oliver in his fight for food education in schools!

11 May 2015
 


Did you know that 1 in 20 British parents believe that a packet of potato chips counts as a portion of vegetables? And that 1 in 10 believe that eating fruit is bad for you? No wonder there is a rise in childhood obesity and diabetes! How can we change this and educate children about food from an early age? 

We asked some of SA’s top chefs to share their thoughts on why teaching a child about nutrition and healthy eating is essential in today’s world. Here's what they had to say...

Luke Dale Roberts, dad to Finley (8) and chef patron of The Test Kitchen, says “Healthy eating is so important because the stats are staggering in terms of the amount of Type 2 Diabetes and obesity in kids. They must learn about food. Knowing about food is a gift in my mind; to be able to enjoy flavours when you’re young, then as you get older you can stretch your tastes more easily and expand your horizons. So it’s not just about health, it’s also about being to appreciate and enjoy things in life.”

Michael Broughton of Terroir in Stellenbosch has been involving his children Sarah (11) and Elijah (9) from the moment they could sit upright on the kitchen counter. 

“Creating awareness about wholesome, homemade, unprocessed food – what you put into your body as fuel is so important. It makes you intelligent, healthy, strong and gives you more energy. Making food and eating it together around a table creates space to teach life lessons too. We love to eat out with our kids. Sitting at a well decked table and ordering off a menu, and interacting politely with the waiter are all life lessons!”

Margot Janse’s son, Thomas (10)  is also no stranger to the kitchen. “We spend time in the kitchen every day. He helps make smoothies for breakfast, chooses his snack for school and does homework on the counter whilst I’m cooking supper. Thomas will try any food. I think it’s because I’ve always fed him everything and I’ve never cooked boring food for him. If you give kids bland food, they’re always going to choose bland meals. When he was 2, he said he didn’t like tomatoes. I was devastated because they’re one of my favourite things! So I got a cherry tomato and bit it in half to show him all the secret seeds inside which he could suck out. Same with sugar snap peas – I showed him all the tiny peas inside and how loud the crunch was when you eat them. He calls them ‘noisy peas’! I’d sprinkle feta on his food and call it snow. You need to have imagination to keep it exciting.

I’m truly frightened by how much shit people feed their children. I just don’t understand how people can take their kids to fast food places as a treat. Thomas calls it ‘fake food’ – he asked me ‘is it like paper?’ and I said yes, because really, there is nothing in it that’s any good at all. It’s like all these brightly coloured drinks.  I always say that if he can find blue food in nature, he can eat it and then he can drink one of those blue flavoured milks but he hasn’t found anything yet!”

“I really believe that a lot of a child’s experiences get translated into their own choices in later life”, says Luke. “If Finley sees us always choosing healthy stuff, then he gets absorbed in those ideas and it becomes a habit. Eating is very much a habit in my mind and whether we eat healthily or badly, it’s what he does as a family, as a kid, which will dictate how he will behave when he’s old. Kids are like sponges – they just copy what they see their parents doing which is why we try and make those healthy choices.”

MasterChef SA judge and father to Latika (5) and Max (2), Reuben Riffel says cooking is an activity that everyone can take part in. “It’s fun from so many different angles - playing with names, the colours, the flavours and the tastes of ingredients. There aren’t many things which enable you to share time with the family that involves all these elements.”

Getting children involved

“Give them fun jobs”, says Michael, “ like beating batter for cakes, cracking eggs, chopping up salad ingredients, making salad dressings, creating smoothies and milkshakes with their favourite fruits using a stick blender (our kitchen essential!), measuring out ingredients (a handy maths lesson, too). We’ve never assumed that they can’t do anything and we allow them to use sharp knives.”

Luke sets aside one day a week for real family time. “On Monday, we got some mince and we all made homemade burgers and hand-cut chips and my son loved it! Not just the making it – although he took it very seriously, weighing out the burgers so they were all exactly the same size, chopping the onions and stuff – but he was just so excited about us doing stuff as a family project. It’s not just that it was a really healthy burger, it was more the cooking experience he enjoyed. It was brilliant and we’re going to try to keep on doing it because he benefits in so many ways.

“I get the kids excited about cooking”, says chef Peter Templehoff of The McGrath Collection - dad to Jason (9), Zara (7) and Jonah (3), “whether it’s turning the meat on the coals, kneading pizza dough or whisking the cream for the fresh fruit, they love it all. The secret is to try to make it fun for them. I also involve them in mushroom hunting and when I collect sea lettuce, winkles and whelks off the rocks; I believe it’s important to expose them to this from an early age as they need to know where food comes from.

Cooking with kids is also vitally important, by being part of the meal process, they get to see how much effort goes into making a meal and will naturally be less inclined to take food for granted. There are also millions of people in the world who don’t know how to cook or prepare food, No value can be attached teaching kids a life skill like this.”

“I really believe that a lot of a child’s experiences get translated into their own choices in later life”, says Luke. If Finley sees us always choosing healthy stuff, then he gets absorbed in those ideas and it becomes a habit. Eating is very much a habit in my mind and whether we eat healthily or badly, it’s what he does as a kid, which will dictate how he will behave when he’s older. 

Kids are like sponges – they just copy what they see their parents doing which is why we try and make those healthy choices. I think that as a chef, it’s my duty to promote a healthy approach to eating and cooking, to make sure that things are natural and not processed and to help make people aware of what they’re putting in their bodies. You must enjoy your food - that’s a given, but you have to care about what you eat as well."

Just to recap the tips shared above:
1. Use your imagination to make the food exciting
2. Give your child a special job in the kitchen (not washing the dishes!)
3. Give ingredients fun nicknames - eg. "noisy peas" 
4. Make cooking a family activity
5. Expose them to "adult" food early on - they just might like it!

Food Revolution Day 

This Friday, 15 May is Food Revolution Day – dubbed by the King of contentious food campaigns, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. According to the official website - “Food Revolution Day is fighting to put practical food education on the school curriculum.” 

We would love you to join us in being vocal on social media on the 15 May. Post pics and tag or mention Jamie and his team by using the global hashtag #FoodRevolutionDay @jamieoliver . 

Here are 3 healthy and quick meals that your kids will love! 

How do you teach your child about healthy eating? 

Let us know by tweeting us - @Food24 @Parent24 

 

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