How to Optimise Your Child’s Nutrition
By Gemma Griffin.
Gemma is a CNM trained Nutritional Therapist who has always had a love of good food, but her interest in its healing power really peaked after having children. Gemma is passionate about helping people of all ages to reach their full potential, but has a particular interest in healthy childhood development. She runs her own practice in Bristol, Whole Health Nutrition UK, where she sees clients on a one to one basis and is also the co-owner of Super Sprouts, an education company providing nutrition and well-being workshops for early years and primary school age children.
In this article, Gemma looks at how we can support younger generations and guide them to make conscious decisions when it comes to food choices.
As a mum to two young children and a Nutritional Therapist, food has a very central focus in our house. With a 6-year-old and an almost 3-year-old, I am very passionate about keeping things simple, ensuring we have lots of colour on our plate and eating as fresh as possible. I am also no stranger though, to the battles that occur in most households when having to manage personal tastes, strong personalities and everyday busy life.
So how can we help to support our children’s health and empower them to make the right food choices?
The biggest thing is to try and avoid battles at mealtimes (no matter how frustrating). Instead, set a good example by eating healthily yourself and continue to offer fresh, healthy snacks and meals. Treat every mealtime as an educational experience and an opportunity for your child to form a long -lasting, healthy relationship with food. A great quote I heard recently was; “trust the process” and this couldn’t be truer when it comes to children and their dietary behaviours.
Involve your children in the cooking process. This may seem like too much of a simple solution, but from past experience, even the fussiest of eaters will begin to try new foods if they have an opportunity to be a part of the meal preparation. Whether that be choosing the meal, shopping for ingredients, making the meal, or all of the above, your children will love helping you to create something the whole family will enjoy.
Include the rainbow. Variety is essential to all round health, so encouraging your children to eat a variety of different colours of fruit and vegetables is key. You may need to get creative here: smoothies, soups, rainbow pizzas / skewers – Keeping a rainbow diary is a great tool that I implement in my Super Sprouts nutrition workshops. The children love to see their charts filling up over the week with all the new colours they have been able to try. Create a family chart if need be and see who can eat the most colours!
Reduce your sugar intake. This is a big one for me. Most of us are aware of how much sugar is creeping into virtually everything that we consume, but what may shock you is that recent studies have shown that children between the ages of 4 and 10 are consuming around 3 and a half stone of sugar in a year. The average weight of a 5-year-old.  This sugar intake is contributing to the current statistics showing 1 in 3 children will leave primary school overweight or obese,  which can affect their physical and mental health well into adulthood, along with a 14% increase in admissions to hospital for tooth decay in the last 3 years. A high sugar intake suppresses the immune system and sends blood sugar levels into a bit of a frenzy. The surging peaks turn into deep troughs and will leave your kids feeling hungry more quickly, impact their behaviour and reduce energy levels. If you cannot face cutting it out completely, try to eat as fresh as you can instead, so you are reducing the amount of hidden sugars in your food. Avoid fizzy drinks and fruit juice as much as possible and try not to use sugary, sweet things as a “treat”, as this can pave the way for unhealthy relationships with food.
Love your fat, your healthy fat that is. Things like nuts, seeds, avocados, eggs, fish oils, butter and grass-fed meats are essential for growth and providing lasting energy. Fat is important for the brain, which is 70% fat, it is used in the formation of every cell in the body and it plays a role in the formation of hormones. Fat also helps to absorb and metabolise certain nutrients such as zinc and vitamin E which are essential for a healthy functioning immune system. Children on a low-fat diet typically eat more sugar and starchy carbohydrates which can lead to the problems outlined above regarding blood sugar problems and decreased immunity. The trick is to ensure that your child is eating “good fats” and not the unhealthy hydrogenated vegetable oils typically found in fast foods, commercial cakes, biscuits and most processed food. If their diet is high in these type of oils, your child may not be able to make good use of the “healthy fats” they are eating and may be more inclined to suffer from obesity and many other health problems including eczema, asthma, vision and / or learning problems.  
Reconnect with the food source. As well as children having a variety of fresh, nutrient dense food, it is also important for our children to know where their food comes from. This connection helps them to understand why we need to eat the things we do and appreciate food as a precious commodity. Over time, this will hopefully lead to less waste, more adventurous food choices and more engagement at meal times.
What can you do?
- Talk about food whenever you can. Read books explaining where it comes from, who grows it and talk about what foods are healthy and delicious.
- Involve your children in the cooking process. They are not too young to start using all their senses to explore real food. Smaller children can use their hands to squish, mix and roll, older children can start using knives and other kitchen tools. Choose a time when you are not in a hurry, as it may add a bit of time to the meal preparation, but know that you are setting up the building blocks for a lasting healthy relationship with food.
- Volunteer on a community farm or garden. Start an allotment. Even the smallest flat can have a planter box on the windowsill to grow herbs. Let your children experience watching something grow from seed.
- Have set family meal times, even if it’s only one meal a day. Switch of the TV, turn off the phones and communicate. Make meal times special.
Rainbow fruit skewers with yoghurt dip
- Choose your favourite fruits (berries, pineapple, kiwi, apples, oranges etc) and cut them into equal parts
- Thread onto wooden skewers
- Dip into plain yoghurt with some honey if required
coconut oil or butter
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees
- Arrange aubergine rounds in a single layer on a large baking sheet
- Brush both sides of the aubergine with coconut oil or butter
- Sprinkle with salt and any other herbs and spices of your choice
- Bake for 15 minutes then check. When aubergine starts to brown on top, flip it over and brown the other side for 10 – 15 minutes.
Chips should be crisp and brown when done. Try them with hummus dip!
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