Yes, you can get your kids to eat healthier! Here’s how
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Kathryn is known as The Three Day Nanny because she can adjust a child’s behaviour in only three days. Food24 spoke to her about how to instil the best possible eating habits in children.
She’s known for her parenting show The Three Day Nanny on CBS Reality (DStv channel 132), but Kathryn’s not just a TV nanny and her methods aren’t only for show. In fact, she was a nanny for 20 years before she was snapped up by the boss of a TV station to make the show, purely because he’d experienced her magic on his own children. Kathryn’s tried-and-tested techniques have been changing parents’ lives for the better, but one thing she’s found is that food is often the reason for many problems. Here are some of her thoughts.
Dealing with fussy eaters
There are certain medical situations where children have eating problems or a genuine fear of food, and that isn’t my area as I’m not a doctor. However, we all have a trigger, a button, and our child knows what that button is. So some parents will react when a child says I’m hungry, some will react when a child says I’m lonely or tired. We feel we instantly need to fix it. I often work with those parents whose button is ‘hungry’. They feel that they always need to feed their child, but this really isn’t the case.
Passing our own food attitudes to our kids
Parents are responsible for their kids’ feelings towards food, and it’s definitely not always the mother. I see more fathers with problems now, such as the fear of their children being overweight, of being bulimic or anorexic, of having bad skin, or not eating enough and wasting away. When I start my service, I have a long consultation with parents and find out what their meal table was like when growing up. Very often it doesn’t take much and it just snowballs and parents will confess what their issues are. Unfortunately, 40% of the child is genetically the parent, so they are instinctively going to behave like their mother or father, so you’re always going to be fighting that instinct. It’s that 60% we have to play with.
How much should your feed a child?
I have a simple rule when it comes to feeding children. It’s all about the hand. The palm of their hand is the size of the protein portion. For a three year old, that’s about a quarter of a fillet of chicken or the tiniest bit of steak or half a sausage. The size of their closed fist is the size of the carbohydrate (a little jacket potato, a tiny pile of rice or a small amount of pasta). Then, they should be able to grab with their fingers two portions of vegetables – be it carrots, peas, broccoli or cauliflower. Your child requires that much food twice a day. You don’t need to fill them up on snacks or milk.
The essential mealtime rules
Try to eat together as a family – it’s really important. When you sit at the table, talk about everything and anything apart from food. Don’t try to encourage the child to eat; they shouldn’t feel like they are being watched. Let them take their time, and if they want to use their hands, don’t discourage them. After 20 minutes, if the child hasn’t finished, let them go, because they won’t eat any more after that.
Food and behavioural problems
If kids are not getting a balanced diet and are eating too much sugar and too many carbs, it can contribute towards behavioural problems. The main reason is because it’s linked to tiredness. Think how sluggish you feel after eating a huge bowl of pasta. It makes it hard to function. It’s also why I recommend avoiding liquid diets. I’m very against smoothies – drinking fruit is a very bad thing to do because it gives you a sugar high but you come down soon after. If a child is tired, you can’t expect him to behave. This is when they start wanting screens and so on and it’s a slippery slope. Nine times out of 10 the families I deal with are deprived of sleep in some way, and because of this they start comfort eating and it becomes a vicious circle.
The foods that are important
I believe there are most definitely brain foods and I talk to children about the importance of red meat, spinach and broccoli. In fact, anything that’s red or green and you can eat, go for it.
Getting children interested in food
I focus a lot on different colours and textures, to make it look as exciting as possible. The main thing I do, right from the age of two, is cook with them. They learn about the stove top, how to light the barbeque, and how to cut with sharp knives. Once they take ownership and their parents watch them doing this and believe in their abilities, they start believing in themselves.
Watch season three of The Three Day Nanny on CBS Reality (DStv channel 132) Saturdays and Sundays at 10:20 and 21:35 until 5 March for more parenting tips.