During this difficult time, looking after ourselves is more important than ever. Eating well is a big part of our general health. Perhaps you are juggling full-time work from home while also caring for small children and managing other responsibilities. Or maybe you are in an essential role, with very little time to cook. Whatever your circumstances, figuring out “what’s for dinner” can be a daily challenge. Here are some useful tips to help you along the way:
Have regular family meals
Family meals are a comforting ritual for everyone involved. Children know what to expect, and parents get a chance to catch up with their children, to introduce new foods, and to model healthy eating. Try keeping to regular times for 3 meals and 2-3 snack breaks a day. Then sit down for some food and a chat, and enjoy one another’s company!
Plan and prepare meals together
In the kitchen, select age-appropriate tasks so children can play a part without getting injured or feeling overwhelmed.
- 3-year olds can put bun cases in a bun tray, use child friendly biscuit cutters, or add small ingredients (for example, dried fruit) to the mix.
- 4 – 5-year olds can whisk eggs, stir liquid ingredients, add dry ingredients, sift flour, or roll cookie dough.
- 6 – 8-year olds can measure ingredients, spoon the mix into cases, arrange toppings (on pizza or sandwiches), prepare fruit for a smoothie or small snacks.
- 9 – 11-year olds can bake (under supervision), chop fruit and vegetables, prepare dough; mash potatoes, make pasta dishes or pizza, and use food preparation equipment under supervision.
Serve a variety of healthy foods and snacks
Children, especially younger ones, will eat mostly what is available. That is why it’s important to control the foods you have in the house. Make it easy for children to choose healthy options by keeping fruits and vegetables on hand and ready to eat. Other good snacks include low-fat yogurt, peanut butter and celery, or whole-grain crackers and cheese. Limit fast food and low-nutrient snacks, such as crisps and sweets. But don’t completely ban favourite snacks from your home. Instead, make them “once-in-a-while” foods, so children don’t feel deprived. Serve water and milk instead of fizzy drinks. Limit juices and choose whole-grain breads, grains and cereals so children can get more fibre.
Aim for at least five to seven servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Fresh produce is almost always the best option, but when it is not available, there are plenty of healthy alternatives, such as tinned and frozen foods. Make sure your store cupboard is stocked with key everyday ingredients, for example pasta, rice, and eggs.
Be a role model by eating healthy yourself
The best way to encourage healthy eating is to eat well yourself. Children will follow the lead of the adults they see every day. By eating fruits and vegetables and not overindulging in the less nutritious stuff, you’ll be sending the right message.
Another idea is to serve appropriate portions and not overeat. Talk about your feelings of fullness, especially with younger children. You might say, “This is delicious, but I’m full, so I’m going to stop eating.”
Avoid battles over food
It’s easy for food to become a source of conflict. Well-intentioned parents might find themselves bargaining or bribing children to eat healthier food. A better strategy is to give children some control. While parents control which foods are available to their children, both at mealtime and between meals, children should decide if they are hungry, what they will eat from the foods served, and when they are full.
When food shopping, wash your hands before you leave the house, avoid touching your face when you’re out and follow social distancing guidelines. When you come home, wash your hands straight away. Wash them again once you have unpacked and put away your shopping
This article was contributed by Limerick Food Partnership, a partnership of organisations working to raise awareness, and improve the access and supply of health food options in Limerick. For more information on this and other topics go to www.loveparenting.ie. For some more practical tips on food safety, go to safefood.eu.