Tips for getting kids to eat healthy: A difficult task

Last updated 09:42 29/01/2013
DANGEROUS: Maintaining your child's sugar intake can be challenging without outside help.

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Our three-year-old had no idea that fizzy drinks existed until a couple of months ago. Milk at meal times and water otherwise was all she knew of drinks and she was happily ignorant of anything else. Like so many things though, once they're on your little one's radar, the pressure is relentless. We still don't have fizzy drinks at home but it's become easier for her to spot when we're out and about now that she knows what to look for. When the other kids at kindy, at the park, in a restaurant or at a picnic have fizzy it will be spotted and a battle will ensue. It has become a 'sometime' food like so many others.

Still, whether you call it a sometime food or a treat, they are the same thing in the mind of a toddler. They are a replacement for any other food when they can get their hands on them. All other foods become that little bit less interesting every time something is added to the list. Although the Christmas period is out of the way, we're still dealing with the fallout at meal times. Not having fizzy, lollipops, chippies and dip, candy canes or ice-creams just makes any meal downright revolting. No tomato sauce, mayonnaise, salad dressing or dip just makes the meal incomplete. This may seem like an exaggeration to those of you who haven't experienced meal times with toddlers but I can assure you it's not.

Not one of these things was offered to our little sugar magnet by us. We even managed to temper the contribution from the grandparents, although that felt like we were meddling with a relationship that wasn't ours to meddle with. I'm talking about the contributions that arrive during Christmas parties, Christmas shopping, grocery shopping, visiting Santa, going to the park or even getting a haircut.

A toddler's ability to remember when, where and under what circumstances they managed to acquire that celebrated package of sugar or MSG seems to defy their level of development. There is no such thing as a one-off experience. I'm sure the next hair cut will end in tears if there is no lollipop at the end of it, even if it is in six months' time. Every contributor thought their lollipop, candy cane or sauce dipped savoury was a one-off but the experience has changed a toddler's perception of food forever. This is enhanced tenfold by the well-meaning anticipation of excitement on the face of the generous sugar donor, the expectation is that the experience will be repeated daily.

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We don't beat ourselves up trying to avoid every treat that heads toward our princess because the impact of attempting to do so would be harmful to all of us; more so than the food itself. It is, however, very difficult to manage your kid's food choices without the help of well-meaning others. We do attempt to subtly intercept these moments before they come about, but it would be made immensely easier if people could recognise that at the age of two, it's not her choice but her parents' choice as to whether or not she will eat that lollipop you're about to offer.

A subtle question by way of eye contact and a raised eyebrow at the very least would suffice.

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