I believe education starts from birth and that a supportive home environment is key! I'm talking health and lifestyle, not just teaching our kids how to read and write. I want to set a good example, be a role model and also involve my children in the decision making in our home.
There is no doubt that obesity and inactivity are huge concerns in our society. Too many children don't know what is in their food, are unable to make informed and educated decisions or are unable to regulate their food intake. Parents have to take the lead and I'm teaching my kids all I can to set them up well for the future. One of the things I'm teaching my kids about is the Health Star Rating system on packaged foods. Not just to look for the stars but how the Health Star Rating system works and why it is important!
The Health Star Rating system ranks packaged food products on a scale from half to five stars - the more stars the better the nutritional choice within a particular product category. As a rule, if the product is packaged and has a Nutrition Information Panel it can have a Health Star Rating.
Under the system, packaged foods are given a star rating based on their nutritional profile including;
- Energy (kilojoules).
- Risk nutrients - saturated fat, sodium (salt) and sugars.
- Positive nutrients - dietary fibre, protein and the proportion of fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content.
Put simply, we want less saturated fat, sodium (salt) and sugars and more dietary fibre, protein, fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content. We have looked at all the foods we have at home and compared them to similar type foods at the supermarket. We have found that we can make better food choices by purchasing the foods with the higher number of Health Stars.
Like many families, we feel it is important to involve our children in food making decisions and in food preparation, in a real and meaningful way. My children have access to their own snacks and (for the most part) make their own school lunch boxes. We taught them how to use knives and other kitchen tools in a safe way since toddlerhood. We have low shelves in our pantry for their dry goods and a small kid's fridge for their refrigerated goods. This independence is empowering and allows for age appropriate decision making!
Here are some of my tips on setting up a kid's fridge:
- Look for a small fridge that the children can easily reach. You can use the bottom shelf or drawer in your main refrigerator or a small bar type fridge as we have used.
- Make sure the fridge is clean (check seals) and runs at a safe temperature. Check the temperature regularly as children may change the temperature control without you noticing. The fridge should operate at or below 4°C (39.2°F).
- For all packaged foods look for the Health Star Rating (remember the more stars the healthier the option) and if necessary read the Nutrient Information Panel to make easy and informed decisions!
- Encourage your children to make safe and healthy food decisions by providing the best food possible. Stock the fridge with fresh and healthy produce. These early years are so important in establishing good food habits and a healthy lifestyle!
- Consider putting a small jug or water dispenser in the fridge. This really supports independent thinking and helps the child to stay hydrated. Even toddlers can independently get their own drink (in a supervised area) and cold water can be nice in warmer climates and in summer. A drink dispenser with a spigot is really easy to use. We keep our drinking glasses on a tray on top of the fridge but you could also put a cup next to the fridge or even on a shelf in the fridge.
- Provide small bottles, jugs or decant liquids. We do this in the kid's fridge with milk. Otis will most likely spill when pouring with a large 2-litre container so we either buy small packets for him or pour the milk into a 1-litre bottle to put in his fridge (as shown).
- Provide small individual sized servings. This doesn't always mean more packaging, you can still buy in bulk but chop up food or divide it into smaller, child-friendly, reusable containers. Smaller sizes are easier for the child to use, they won't get overwhelmed and you can always top up the containers later or on the next day.
- Chop up vegetables and other foods you want to encourage your children to eat. We have snow peas and chopped up vegetable sticks in our kid's fridge and they always get eaten quickly. It takes little effort and really increases their daily vegetable intake. We currently also have banana bread in the kid's fridge which I have cut into slices, this makes it mess free and fast for them to independently get a bite to eat when on the run (or in-between after school activities). Having lots of chopped up vegetables and fresh food accessible in the kid's fridge also makes it easier (and quicker) for them to make healthy food choices when packing their lunch boxes for school.
- Ensure all containers in the fridge are child-friendly. The aim is for the child to independently access the food so ensure they can easily open and close the containers. Observe your child to ensure they are not having any difficulties or ask your child to open and close the containers in the shop before you purchase new containers. Remember toddlers can do this too, look around and you will find some containers your toddler can open and close independently.
- Only include the foods and quantities that you are happy for your child to eat. For a toddler, this might include an apple, a few pieces of cheese, and a small tub of yoghurt. Younger children are still learning to self-regulate and self-control and allowing them access to their own snacks can help with this.
- Check the fridge and clean it out regularly. Always remove out of date foods and keep a close eye what the kids are or are not eating. We don't store meats or raw, high risk foods in our kid's fridge.
- As always, involve your child in the process of growing foods and/or shopping at the markets or supermarket. I don't always take my kids to the shops but I actively involve them in making a list, meal planning and I take on their suggestions. With older kids ask them what snacks or lunch box items they would like in their fridge. The kid's fridge also makes it easy for them to help put away the groceries!