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September 6, 2016

In her new book, ‘Healthy Little Eaters’, nutritionist and mother-of-three, Wal Herring, encourages parents to look at their own habits and attitudes to food if they want to instill good ones in their children.

Getting small people to eat well (or eat at all) can be a huge stress for parents, at times resulting in tears on both sides of the table. It’s something nutritionist Wal Herring (pictured below with her children) is no stranger to in her own household. A desire to instill good habits in her children led her to research the topic more deeply and had a profound effect on the way she parents. She shares that journey and the strategies she developed in her book, Healthy Little Eaters.

Unlike many healthy eating guides on the market, Healthy Little Eaters is not about ways to cram fruit and vegetables into a child’s diet, but about how to establish a good attitude to food that will last a lifetime. 

As Wal explains, “The main aim in parenting is to raise healthy children who know how to make wise decisions for themselves. It is easy to get focused on getting our kids to eat that one piece of broccoli. But how will this teach them to choose good foods when they are not with you?”

To do this, Wal says we need to look a little deeper at the messages we’re sending. 

Are there foods you don’t like and therefore don’t serve to your kids, or have predisposed them to not like? Are there things you wouldn’t allow your kids to have but that they see you tucking into – or even guiltily scoffing on the sly? Do you find yourself bribing your kids to eat healthy things by smothering them in sugar or tomato sauce; or reward them with ‘treat food’, thus instilling in them the idea that this food is more special and delicious? 

These are common parental traps that we all fall into from time to time, but Wal encourages us in a gentle and supportive way to think about how we can change these habits and replace them with better strategies.

And what should we do when a lovingly prepared meal is rejected? “If you’ve put an effort in with a meal or you haven’t felt like cooking and you do and then it’s met with, ‘I don’t like that’ it’s easy to get defensive because it’s actually a hurt in you,” explains Wal. 

“I know this because I’ve gone through it myself. If you’re feeling stressed when you’re putting food on the table then it might be worth going out of the room for a couple of minutes while they’re eyeing up their food and then coming back. 

“It can be a power struggle because you’re not going to give in and they’re not going to give in and that’s when everything goes to custard. 

“Deal with yourself first and if you can find a way to get happy then they’ll sense that. There were times when I used to have to walk away for five minutes and then come back, but now I’m at a point when I can just calmly say, ‘You may not like it but that’s all we have at the moment. What would you like for tomorrow night and I’ll make that for you.’ 

“You switch it around to something positive and the battles do go away. It’s a journey that really takes time.” 

Ultimately, Wal’s book is about a lot more than just mealtimes and parents will gain a lot from reading it, just as she has herself from writing it. 

“If you keep the bigger picture in mind then a lot of the little things don’t worry
you any more. Through my research, I’ve learnt so much for myself that goes beyond food. And I’ve become a more peaceful parent overall.”

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