6 Ways To Develop Healthy Attitudes To Food Within The Family Britain may not be the only country to have a childhood obesity problem, but what are we doing to address the issue? Once bad eating habits set in and become routine, they can be hard to change. Did you know that in some areas, more than half of children leaving primary school are overweight or obese ? Not so long ago, Jamie Oliver was shocked to find that many schoolchildren struggled to identify basic fruit and vegetables . Parents are often blamed for failing to encourage healthy eating in their children, but what can you realistically do to turn a KFC-loving picky eater into a fan of fresh veg? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Here are 6 healthy eating strategies that could help children and their families develop greater awareness of and engagement with the food they eat on the daily basis, leading to more intelligent dietary choices. 1. Get everyone involved Children love playing games, so if parents can tap into their offspring’s natural enthusiasm and make food fun, this is an excellent way to build engagement. From meal planning to grocery shopping and food preparation, there’s no reason why children shouldn’t be part of the process. Cooking, in particular, can be made a favourite pastime. Whether you are preparing fruit juice ice lollies, baking biscuits or making pizza from scratch, the results are going to be eagerly anticipated while the nutritional value is always going to be higher than anything shop bought. For older children who may need a bit of a nudge, why not book a cooking workshop for the whole family ? 2. Go back to basics The desire to make healthy food choices starts with understanding where the food on the table comes from, but often there’s an enormous disconnect between the origins of the raw ingredients and the prepared meal, particularly among children. In addition to introducing the youngsters to the concept of meal planning and supermarket shopping, make a point of obtaining produce from more local sources such as a farmer’s market, a pick-your-own or dairy farm, from friendly neighbours or local hedgerows, to re-establish this vital connection. If space at home allows, a vegetable plot, raised beds or even a small herb garden can do wonders to help children develop greater engagement with where food comes from. Choosing a crop, planting, watering, harvesting and, ultimately, preparing a tasty meal from it, is both motivational and educational. 3. Offer healthy snacks only When blood sugar levels are low and snack attacks strike, it pays to be prepared. Rather than having to avoid the temptation of chocolates, crisps and biscuits in the pantry, a much better idea is to stock the kitchen exclusively with healthy treats. That way, there’s less pressure on parents to have to police the sweets cupboard, while arguments over food can be avoided. Nutritious snack supplies at home could include a bowl of fresh fruit, raisins or dried apple rings, vegetable sticks dipped in hummus, wholegrain crackers or breadsticks, plain popcorn and tap water can be made available as a healthier alternative to commercial snack foods and confectionery. 4. Provide mealtime choices Mealtimes with children can be a stressful and testing time for the whole family. Picky eaters may reject the entire home cooked meal in front of them, demanding fast food instead. Many parents feel compelled to give in to unreasonable and unhealthy demands for the sake of family harmony, or cook different meals for different family members. A much healthier way to approach mealtimes is to offer a degree of choice for everyone – say a base meal of pasta with a choice of sauces, salads and toppings. This method takes everyone’s individual likes and dislikes into account without being overly prescriptive, while making it clear that’s all that will be on offer. 5. Lead by example Parents are important role models for their children when it comes to eating habits. A recent study discovered that young children are particularly influenced in their food preferences by their mother’s likes and dislikes. Deliberately and routinely ordering a salad rather than fries as a side dish in a restaurant may just prompt the youngsters to want to do the same. Pre-schoolers love to copy what their parents do, so if healthy dietary choices are the norm within the family, these kinds of food will seem natural to children – even when the teenage years may throw a temporary spanner in the works! 6. Perseverance pays off in the end While some children are naturally open minded and curious, eager to try new foods, others are much more conservative in their food preferences. If a toddler stubbornly refuses to eat his broccoli, or a teenager turns his nose up at a serving of mashed potato, it’s tempting to concede defeat and stop offering it up. However, research has shown that most children require multiple exposure to a new food before they’re ready to try it – up to ten times! With that in mind, it’s worth playing the long game – patience is a virtue and perseverance pays. About the Author: Annie Button is a Portsmouth based writer and English Literature graduate. Annie likes to share her experiences and knowledge through her blog posts and has written for various online and print publications. When she’s not writing Annie likes cooking healthy new recipes and relaxing with a good book'. Twitter: Annie Button