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Healthy or not...

A way to get kids involved in deciding what's healthy

When our first born was 5 months' old, he grabbed everything off my plate and suddenly, we realised he was ready for solid food. I read a few books and we ended up following 'Baby-led weaning'. It worked a charm for us. He ate what we ate and followed our lead in trying new foods. If he didn't like what was for dinner, he could choose a bit of fruit to his liking.

Now 5, our eldest is at school full-time and has learned that other children have pudding every night. At first, he staged a campaign for nightly pudding at our house. He lost the campaign. But, suddenly, we found ourselves having in-depth conversations about the relative health of various foods around the dinner table. Finally, we landed on an idea...together, we created a food chart.

At the top of a large white bit of paper, we wrote 'HEALTHY'. At the bottom? You guessed it...'UNHEALTHY'. We drew a horizontal line across the middle of the page. Next, we set about drawing and colouring in foods as they were named--placing them on the chart where we felt they belonged based on their health merits. Of course, this wasn't an exact science, but it was successful enough to earn a spot on a fridge for 6 months and gave us a tool to use in allowing everyone more choice and independence.

To tackle the pudding question, we came up with a new family rule. If someone fancied pudding after the main meal, they could select anything they wished which appeared 'above the line' on the chart. Armed with this tool, our boys suddenly came to think of tomatoes, cheese, yogurt and pistachios as suitable puddings and were more understanding when ice cream wasn't on tap.

Perhaps most helpful of all is that this process of deciding if each food is healthy or not led us as parents to second guess our own assumptions about the relative health of foods. Which is healthiest? A banana, or blueberries? Plain popcorn, or a slice of wheat bread? A wheat biscuit, or a digestive biscuit? Our assumptions weren't always backed up by scientific reasoning. 

What tricks have you found for talking about food in a way your children can understand? We'd love to learn from your experience...

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