Encouraging healthy eating is an important part of a nanny’s job; and often one of the most challenging ones.
There are different ways of encouraging healthy eating.
The main downfall of healthy eating could be the failed partnership with the parents.
I understand that it is frustrating, trying to encourage children to eat healthy all day, only for the parents to come home and give the child a treat.
I think we can all understand that the parents can have feelings of guilt about spending their whole day at work and not spending enough time with their children.
This is something you can discuss with the parents, especially at the beginning of the employment. It makes it much easier when you start your new job.
Try to explain benefits of working together and being consistent, treats don’t have to be food, it can be a bath time supervised by the parent or story read before the bed.
Another side to the treats is that we are conditioning the child to always seek comfort and reassurance in the food, which could lead to weight issues in the future.
It is not just the treats that may be a problem.
How many times have you heard of parents telling you that if the child doesn’t eat their meal, they can have some fruit and yoghurt instead- at least they eat something, right?
Well, I don’t know about you, but if I know I can have something sweet, which will give me energy, why would I bother with the meal itself?
Effective communication is a key as always and if you cannot plead your case successfully, consider if the child has a real issue with food. If not, respect parent’s choices and carry on doing your part as best as you can.
Involve the child in Planning
We all had one of those days, when you don’t feel like eating what has been prepared or eating at all. And that’s fine, children feel the same.
As children grow, encourage them to help you prepare the menu for the week so they feel part of the choice, they will want to eat what they have chosen.
You may need to allow for some “odd” choices (peanut butter and fish ball sandwich anyone?), but as long as the child eats varied, nutritious diet, this should be fine.
It is also a great way to support child’s speech development, as you discuss the recipes;
and communication and literacy as you search and read cook books.
You never know, it may be inspiring enough for children to start experimenting and creating their own recipes from scratch.
Involve children in Food Preparation
Children love to help with the cooking and baking.
And we should let them, children will not only improve their speech, but also physical skills while mixing and pouring, problem solving and reasoning while weighing and measuring, their confidence and self-esteem improves and they are more likely to eat what they have prepared.
Make it fun and don’t look at the mess, it’s all part of the learning.
Make food Exciting
There is nothing more boring than brown food.
Make it fun, colourful and exciting, experiment and try new things regularly.
Become a decorating master, smiley face from vegetables or watermelon pizzas are joy to look at and eat. You will find plenty of ideas on Pinterest and other social media.
Older children can easily help with setting up the table, pouring drinks, loading the dishwasher; it is invaluable learning that will help them through life.
Sharing the mealtime with the children should be strictly kept.
Even if you are not having a dinner yourself, you should sit down with the children and “share” the mealtimes.
It is all in the name, really.
If you sit with the children, you create safe and secure environment where children will feel comfortable to share experiences from their day and their worries.
Sharing information gives you opportunity to listen carefully; and having a conversation with the children improves their speech and language skills at the same time.
Mealtimes help to build the bond and good base for children, so they know they have place in the world, where they belong.
In a long-term, this builds respect and trust for others. Some studies and research suggest that this may help to prevent children who are susceptible to peer pressure to get support from the adult, rather than going down the unwanted route of smoking, drinking alcohol, having sex early, etc.
They say that the modern day killer is stress. You can help combat the stress by creating this time to have someone to talk to, it helps children- and adults- relax and simply enjoy each other’s company. Anything that makes us happy should be part of our daily routine.
Throw in some Diversity
While you are having a mealtime together, you have perfect opportunity to introduce other cultures, backgrounds and religions.
Look up new recipes, visit library, speak to the other nannies to share their own habits and meals.
Turn Off the Noise
Mealtimes should be relaxing time for everyone, turn off the TV, put away the tablets and computers, so the children can concentrate on what they are actually eating.
Managing Behaviour during mealtimes
We all strive to bring up well-behaved young people from the little children in our care.
The best way to do this, is to be a good role model. If the children see that you behave politely and with good manners at the table, there is no need for the lengthy lessons and reminders, they will copy you instead.
You do need to consider differences in the culture and background and learn what are acceptable table manners in the child’s family own background.
Discussion with parents should be at the top of the list, they may want to let children eat the way it’s acceptable to them in their own home.
If you are having issues with the behaviour, why not get the children to help you create the Table manners chart, they know very well what should go on there. If the children set their own rules, they are more likely to stick with them and even re-enforce them with siblings and their friends.
I wish you happy mealtimes!