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Parent Tips

Family photo in front of a lake

Raising a family is a busy task and there are many challenges along the way, as well as many rewards. Getting your kids to eat well and be active are common goals for many parents and they can add to the fun of family life!

Kay Harris is a mother of three – a teenaged son, and “tween” twin daughters. Here she provides some tips on how to get your kids eating well and being active.

Kay’s top tips:

  • Keep the cupboards free of unhealthy snacks they can pester you for.
  • Talk about healthy foods and encourage them to try new tastes.
  • Join, or set up, a neighbourhood Fruit and Vegie Co-op for the freshest and cheapest way to feed a family.
  • Find new and creative ways to incorporate extra vegies in every meal.
  • Encourage a range of sports and then go with what the kids prefer.
  • Get involved in team sports and volunteer as a coach or manager.

Keep the cupboards free of unhealthy snacks

As a parent, you often have to ‘go with the flow’. When our son was a toddler, he wasn’t a great eater so we put a lot of time into encouraging him to eat well. I remember when he was about 9, I was worried that he was too lean and wasn’t eating enough but my local GP put my mind at rest and told me that his body was a well-oiled machine that would take the nutrients it needed. My husband and I were firm on not giving in to junk food – sure, he could have treats now and again, but generally we stuck to good, healthy food at every mealtime. We avoided the “pester power” by simply not having unhealthy snacks in the cupboard.

Our daughters were the opposite – they were born hungry! I remember when they were babies and first introduced to solids, we used to buy fruit or vegies in bulk, cook and puree them all and freeze in portions for their meals. Feeding the two of them, we always went through it pretty quickly!

Talk about healthy foods and encourage kids to try new tastes

Now that my kids are older, life is a bit easier at mealtimes. Nowadays we pretty much eat the same meals – and they are even starting to get interested in cooking themselves. We often serve meals with serve-yourself vegetables or salad. That way, the kids are empowered to try a bit of what they like, and it also generates discussions about healthy foods amongst the whole family.

Join/set up a neighbourhood co-op

My best tip is to join or set up a local fruit and vegie co-op. In our neighbourhood, fruit and vegie co-ops are very popular, and we joined one about five years ago. The way it works for us is that we have 7 families involved, and each week one family is responsible for going to the markets and buying a carload of fresh fruit and vegetables, then dividing it between the families. I not only love the days when I get a message to come and collect my allocation of fruit and vegies for the week, but it’s also fun to do the shop, buying up boxes of fresh produce! Of course, I wouldn’t want to be the shopper every week – but not only do we get the freshest fruit and vegies around, it’s also very cost effective for a family. And then every week, you’re working your way through it all before the next lot arrives!

Find new and creative ways to incorporate extra vegies in every meal

There are always opportunities to add in extra vegies when you’re cooking. We take it on as a challenge – many a lasagne is boasted about in our house as having 5 types of vegetables in it. My husband has even created “Pieter’s Surprise” which is the name for any meal he’s made which is chock full of vegetables. And that way we don’t have to say exactly what’s in it and have the response “But I don’t like …”!

Try a range of activities but stick with the ones the kids enjoy

As for being active, I think that kids gain a lot of self-esteem through physical activity. We have always encouraged activities such as swimming, football, ballet and athletics. We also focussed on “personal bests” rather than just winning. However, there is nothing worse than forcing a child to keep up an activity they’re not enjoying. I suggest trying it for a set period, and if they’re not enjoying it, move onto something else – you’re bound to find something they love sooner or later.

Get involved in a team sport

Team sports are also a great way to keep kids active and healthy, and they often provide a great social outlet for the parents as well! We have always encouraged our children to play a team sport – in our family football has become the sport of choice. And not only do they play on the team, but my husband coaches the girls team, and I was the Manager for our son’s team for a while!