Don’t make meals a food fight

May 28, 2016

It’s no picnic feeding children. ‘Nutritionist Nanny’ Bridie Kersten* spills her secrets for creating yummy, wholesome food that your kids will be clamouring to eat at meal times. 


Many years before I became a nutritionist, I was a nanny. Naturally, an important part of my job was to ensure that the children I cared for were fed with nutritious and delicious meals. 

Anyone who has ever tried to feed a child nutritious food will know how much of a challenge this can sometimes be. I can’t tell you how disheartening it was to see all that effort—and, not-to-mention, perfectly good food—go into the bin. We all know how crucial childhood nutrition is, but what is the secret to making sure food is eaten rather than thrown at the walls?

Well, here is the secret that I learned from one of the mums I worked for: you decide ‘what and when’ to eat and the child decides ‘if and how much’. So, you decide that it will be lamb chops with steamed vegetables and mash at noon and the child decides if they are going to eat it and, if they do, how much they eat. 

Essentially, this approach puts some of the choice in the child’s hands, but also gives back authority to the caregiver. A child who has never had boundaries and has always gotten their way at meal times is not going to take to this approach easily, but as a nutritionist, I can attest to the importance of childhood nutrition and enforcing this approach. 

You have the ability to set them up for life by providing balanced healthy meals in this way.

Here are some tips I find helpful when preparing food for children: 

•    Roast vegetables on a covered tray with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt is a fail-safe option at dinnertime. Fry vegetables in a little butter with a sprinkle of sea salt, or stir through a teaspoon of butter and a sprinkle of sea salt just after you take steamed vegetables out of the pot.

Avoid packaged items which almost always have added salt so that you can control their salt intake. Also, having fats of some form with vegetables is absolutely essential for your child’s overall health.

•    Reward your children with non-food-related items so that they don’t associate food with rewards. Toys, books or games are all preferable.

•    Children aren’t born craving sweet things. In fact, when babies are born, they actually don’t produce much of the enzyme for digesting sweet things at all. Wanting sweets, therefore, is a learned habit. So, right from the start, establish sweet things as a ‘sometimes’ food—this means not every day. Fruit is suitable in moderation: one to two serves a day is more than enough.

Remember, a child isn’t going to love everything you put in front of them. You don’t have to force them to eat foods they don’t enjoy, but it is important they understand they should give everything a try. 

Of course, the best way to get a child to try everything is to set the example and do exactly the same yourself.

*Bridie Kersten is a registered nutritionist with an interest in holistic and alternative health who blogs at


Tags: Salvation Army Australia

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