Chapter 3: Marketing magic—do tell them...

be the influencer in your child's life beat obesity don't tell them it's healthy feeding fussy kids feeding the family fussy children get kids to eat vegies how to make children enjoy eating vegetables marketing health food marketing healthy food to your children

feeding fussy families

Image: Home-made chicken nuggets and 'take-away' styled vegetables from The Healthy Skin Kitchen.


This is what you’ve been waiting for ...

Chapters 3 and 4 focus on strategies to get your child eating healthy food of their own free will. These tactics are effective and work quickly because they have been worded in a manner that children find appealing and even exciting. They do not use grown-up phrases that your child may find ‘boring’ and they are tailor made to appeal to your child’s individual taste and hobbies.

Your goal this week is to read this chapter, set one or two new rules and convince your child that you are setting them for their sole benefit, not yours.


Positive ways to ‘sell’ healthy food to children

Children’s likes and dislikes vary greatly and as a parent you know your child best. You recognise if they prefer playing ball at the park or favour computer games or making arts and crafts. With this knowledge, you can convince your child that eating healthy food is absolutely in their best interest. It’s as simple as linking your child’s favourite interests with eating healthy food and their dislikes, such as losing a game of football, with eating junk food.

TV fast food marketing campaigns do this all the time. They link ‘having fun’ with their products and they associate ‘feeling isolated and left out’ with not buying their goods. And children respond by begging their parents to purchase these items. You can do the same with healthy food if you keep the following in mind:

Kids don’t want to be little and weak. They want to be strong like their heroes, their dad or the toughest kid at school. They don’t want to be slow, different or uncoordinated. Children want to be fast and clever so they can win races, do well at school (or computer games) and impress their parents and peers. They also want to be able to climb far above the ground (without falling) and jump higher than ever before.

Teens may desire to look attractive, have clear skin, be popular and do well during exams. And they usually want to feel independent but also want to know they have the support of their parents when they need it. They want their parents to be helpful without being told exactly what to do and when to do it. This may sound tricky to master but just remember to appeal to their vanity, competitive nature or need for approval when giving them advice.

Also keep in mind that kids love praise and they want to know how to ‘get the edge’ and be the best they can be, without you implying they are defective in any way if they fail. There are plenty of examples coming up next.

Taking into consideration your child’s age and personal preferences, you can tell them what they want to hear and also tell them the truth when you use healthy marketing:

As I’ve said before, kids want to be strong and fast and clever and so on. Vegetables can help them achieve this as they supply valuable nutrients to keep the blood healthy, giving your child a more sustained and calm energy which can influence their performance.


For the child who loves computer games:

  • Casually say ‘Vegetables can help you play better’.

  • Or elaborate for the child who always wants to know why: ‘Vegetables can make you better at playing computer games as they help with eyesight and quick finger movements because veggies improve blood flow to your finger tips and eyes’. Even if this explanation goes over their head, they should be convinced. (See Chapter 5 for a scientific explanation on how alkalising foods improve blood flow).

For the child who loves to play or compete with others:
  • Casually tell your child ‘Vegetables will help you run faster’.

  •  Say ‘Vegetables will help you jump higher’. You can make it more specific by saying ‘I’ve given you green beans with dinner tonight as they can help you jump higher’. Reinforce this by getting them to jump in the air before and after eating their veggies and praise them for jumping higher afterwards.

  • If your child likes swimming you can say ‘Carrot and celery sticks can give you strong swimming arms’.

  • If you are going to the park and you know your child is a keen climber say ‘Veggies will help you climb better as they help you to be strong and good at concentrating’.

  • Or say ‘Did you know you should have one green veggie every day as they make you strong and clever? That’s why I’ve added some to your dinner tonight’.

  • Say ‘Vegetables will help you do well at your football game this Saturday so I’ve made you a special ‘power’ dinner including broccoli and red capsicum’. Link veggies to whatever sport or activity they enjoy. 

If, after spruiking the virtues of veggies, your child continues to do poorly at a particular activity, such as losing a game of football, then still praise them (as kids need encouragement) but casually add ‘Maybe the other team eats more veggies?’ This ought to fire them up enough to ask for extra veggies that night. If your child has never seen the other child or children in question eat vegetables they may rebut with ‘No they don’t’. If this occurs then casually say ‘Maybe veggies are their secret weapon and they don’t want you to copy and be as strong or clever as them?’ After all, this is the truth. Healthy eating is a 

secret weapon that gives people the edge. It gives them the edge over heart disease and cancer by essentially making the body stronger.

Also try to cheer up your child by adding ‘At least we know that vegetables make you strong and clever so I’ll make you a special power dinner tonight.’ See the FAQs on page 52 and 55 for more problem-solving tips.

For the child or teenager who wants to look good:

  • If your child is concerned because they have bad skin, say ‘Dark leafy green veggies are the secret to great skin so I will include some with dinner tonight’.

  • Or ‘Veggies and fish can give you beautiful skin so tonight I’ve cooked you a special dinner’. So your child does not unrealistically expect to wake up the next morning with perfect skin, you may need to state that it takes a month or so of healthy eating to clear up skin problems. Also mention that ‘junk food feeds pimples’ as unhealthy snacking throughout the day may negate all the healthy eating they do at dinner time.

  • *For the child or teenager who voices their concern about being overweight say ‘I love you no matter what so don’t be too concerned about your weight’. Also add ‘I know what we can do. Let’s find a sport you love to do and let’s make your body strong and lovely by eating a special variety of vegetables with lunch and dinner’.

People can overeat when they feel unlovable or unloved. If your child is fixated on their physical appearance let them know they are a beautiful person inside and out, and make sure they fully 

understand they do not have to look perfect to be lovable. Don’t presume your child knows this. Children need to be reminded of this on a regular basis, with not only your kind words but also your positive actions. Presents and sweet treats are the least effective ways to show love. Give your child some of your time, listen to them and praise their achievements no matter how small they may seem. These are the best ways to convey how much you love them. Along with the positive actions also tell your child ‘I love you’ and give them plenty of hugs.


I call white bread ‘party food’ because it offers little nutrition except for the poor variety of fortified nutrients manufacturers have added back in. Wholemeal bread is a bit more nutritious but, like white bread, it supplies only a short burst of energy that does not maintain a child’s concentration for long periods of time. Wholegrain bread generally supplies slow-release glucose for sustained energy which can keep your child performing at their best until their next meal break. Look for breads that have a low glycemic index (GI). But don’t tell your kids that...

  • Tell them ‘Grainy bread will help you to be smart as it promotes good concentration’.

  • Say ‘I’ve given you brainy grain bread in your lunchbox today so you can have a fantastic day at school’.

  • Also tell them ‘The more grains you can see, the better it is’. 
I have never met a child who did not want to be smart or impress the people around them with some kind of clever trick or performance. Kids thrive when they feel intelligent. Kids lose motivation when they feel ‘dumb’ and they become apathetic when they believe they have no hope of improving. Grainy bread offers the hope of improving intelligence and ability. All you have to do is market this to your child.



Here’s another one for the child who wants to be clever. Omega-3 rich fish supplies a good dose of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is essential for proper brain and eye development in children. In an American study published in the journal Pediatrics, children with difficulties in learning, behaviour and psychosocial adjustment were given an essential fatty acid supplement containing 80 per cent fish oil and 20 per cent evening primrose oil (supplying 558mg of EPA and 174mg of DHA). The placebo group were given olive oil. After three months, the olive oil group fell further behind with their spelling and they had an average progression in reading. However, the children who consumed the omega-3 blend had significantly improved with both reading and spelling and they were better behaved.

Results are less dramatic with children who have no learning or behavioural problems but fish is still brain food as all children need to consume essential fatty acids for optimal brain function. But don’t tell your child that...

* Tell them ‘Fish is brain food’.
* Say ‘Fish is brain food and can help you to be clever

at school work’.

However, if your child is a vegetarian or allergic to fish you can sell them on the benefits of omega-3 rich linseeds. (See Chapter 5 on page 88 for more information on linseeds.)


It’s hard to believe that some children don’t like fruit. Parents assure me this is true and I have to take their word for it. Their kids don’t love sweet, delicious mangoes, berries or peaches and they turn their nose up at apples. Some kids will only eat bananas or will reluctantly eat their fruit salad if bribed or nagged.

My daughter on the other hand, begs for an apple every time we pass the fresh food aisle of the supermarket. It’s not that my child is a natural goodie two-shoes, it is simply the result of healthy marketing on my part.

It is true that fruit is nature’s lollies; they are sweet and delish but most kids will tell you that chocolate and bikkies are number one in the scrumptious department and they don’t know why they should go for second best. They don’t know that fruit and other fresh produce can reduce their risk of nasty grown-up problems such as cancer. But don’t tell them that...

  • Say the slogan ‘Fruit is nature’s lollies’.

  • Say ‘Power Fruit will give you energy to play and

    have fun with your friends so I’ve packed some in

    your lunchbox today’.

  • Say ‘If you’re a really good girl (or boy) you can have some Power Fruit as a special treat’. If you act as though fruit is a desirable treat and you speak highly of its virtues then your child is more likely to think highly of it too.

Fruit is not boring anymore... from now on fruit is called ‘Power Fruit’ an essential snack for stronger, faster kids. This marketing technique works well on competitive kids. If your child is not so spirited, be creative and see if you can tailor a fruit slogan that your young child will warm to. Maybe yellow fruit such as pineapple with its spiky top can become Bart’s Fruit. Or grapes can be Super-powered Alien Eggs. In the next chapter there are other imaginative ideas for children of all ages (including the older, more cynical ones).



Just because you want your child to be healthy doesn’t mean you have to put a lifetime ban on all junk food and outside influences such as TV. However, it is a good idea to control or restrict when or how often they come into contact with them. This is when the word ‘sometimes’ needs to be used. As I mentioned in the last chapter, also let your child know when sometimes is so they don’t resent you for setting the rules to suit your whims.

For example, my daughter loves iceblocks and a couple of years ago she would demand one whenever we passed the local shop on the way to her school. After all, we were in the vicinity of her favourite icy treat and she thought it was a great opportunity to buy one. Every day I’d say ‘No, we’re going to school’. Every day there was a tantrum. Finally I said ‘Let’s set a new rule: what day should be iceblock day?’ Of course my daughter said today was iceblock day, which happened to be Friday, so iceblocks became a Friday after school treat.

Of course my daughter still nagged me to buy iceblocks for another week but I would always reply with the same slogan ‘Iceblock day is Friday’. Her complaining became less frequent and soon she had replaced ‘I want an iceblock!’ with ‘Is it Friday yet?’ or ‘How many days till Friday?’ Within a fortnight she knew when Friday was due to occur and she no longer needed to ask.

Occasionally she would try her luck and tell me her ideas for a new rule ‘Can we make iceblock day every day the sun shines?’ ‘No’, I’d reply, ‘Iceblock day is Friday’. She knows this is true as she has heard and experienced this slogan (aka rule) on a consistent basis so she doesn’t hassle me when I inevitably say no.

We have other rules about sometimes foods. Chocolate is for Easter and parties. Lollies are for Halloween, Christmas and birthdays. The icy treat my daughter gets on iceblock day is always a lemonade iceblock as it’s the only variety without any artificial additives. I am strict about junk food because I am a nutritionist. I also like my daughter to be well-behaved and chocolate, artificial preservatives and food colourings seem to scramble her brain so she sounds and acts like a different child (to put it nicely).

Your child doesn’t have to show obvious signs of sensitivity in order for you to set clear guidelines about sometimes foods. Kids thrive when they have set boundaries and clear-cut rules. Be vague about when sometimes is and you will end up getting a debate each time you decide to make sometimes tomorrow rather than right now.

Next time your child throws a tantrum at the supermarket check out queue because they want a handy-to-reach lolly, don’t blame the shop layout. Simply set a new rule (and slip in some sneaky negative marketing) such as:

  • ‘Chocolate won’t make you strong but I’ll buy it today and you can have it after we set a new rule, as chocolate is a sometimes food. What day should be chocolate day?’ After your child has chosen a day add ‘The new rule will start tomorrow’.

If your child protests at the thought of a new rule (or having to wait to eat the treat), then promptly put the lolly back on the shelf. Once your child agrees to making a new rule and promises to follow it then they can have the chocolate. Kids will agree to almost anything if rewarded. Food rewards are normally problematic but not in this case when you are setting a new healthy rule that they will have to follow in future.

Be sure to give your child at least one day’s notice if you are setting a new rule that will restrict their junk food intake. Kids love forewarning so it doesn’t seem like another annoying parental whim. I’ll often tell my daughter ‘The new rule starts tomorrow’. And let her have the junk food that day as a gesture of good will (and it guarantees her eager agreement to the impending rule).

When you set specific guidelines about when sometimes is, you get a child who knows the household rules – they have agreed to them – and they’ll protest less. They just can’t argue with a solid rule that is casually repeated over and over and over again (like an advertising slogan). A positive side effect is you may also get a child who quickly learns the days of the week.

Examples of ‘sometimes’ rules:

* Chocolate is for Easter and Mondays
* Lollies are for parties
* Fried Food Fridays
* Chips are for parties and when visitors come over * Dessert days are Monday, Wednesday and Fridays


If your child is usually quite negative about household rules, try setting a new healthy rule and then get your child to set a related one. For example, if you set the rule ‘Brainy wholegrain sandwiches are for school’, you can also say,

  • ‘You can help set the new rule by telling me if you want the crusts left on or cut off’. Crusts offer no extra nutritional value so don’t fight them on this one.

Children may act like they loathe rules but they seem to enjoy setting some of their own. Children can also feel more respected and loved if at least some of their opinions are taken on board by their parents.

If you set a new restriction on how often they get dessert, you can also say,

  • ‘You can help set the new rule by telling me what you would like for dessert on Saturdays’.

If you want to set a new rule about how often chocolate is eaten, such as once a week, then you can also say,

  • ‘You can help set the new rule by telling me what day is chocolate day’.

If you set a new rule about eating three or four different types of vegetables daily then you can also say,

  • ‘You can help set the new rule by telling me three vegetables that you don’t want to eat’. You can offer some suggestions such as Brussels sprouts or some other veggie you wouldn’t normally cook.

As long as your child has a daily dose of dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach, silverbeet, mixed lettuce or broccoli, and brightly coloured veggies such as carrot and capsicum, it doesn’t matter what other types they have. Variety is important but omitting three veggies won’t make any difference to their health (although I recommend you give them the star quality vegetables detailed in Chapter 5).


You need to create set mealtimes so your child knows when they are going to occur. This helps them feel a sense of routine and certainty. This also teaches them how to delay gratification as they learn they just can’t open the fridge door and help themselves whenever they please. This is important for their health and wellbeing and it teaches them self-discipline when it comes to eating. Set mealtimes are especially vital if your child is a fussy eater or a grazer who likes to nibble on food throughout the day. It’s also marvellous for the child who tries to delay bed time by suddenly declaring ‘I’m hungry!’ as they’re tucked into bed or the kid who has to continually snack on something when sitting in front of the television. For example,

  • Tell your child ‘Dinner is at 7 p.m. and the kitchen’s closed by 8 p.m. so don’t expect to eat more food after this time’.

Here is an example of a suitable meal timetable:

The McGregor’s Meal Timetable

Breakfast time is 7 a.m. and finishes by 8 a.m.
Snack time is 10 a.m. and finishes by 10.30 a.m.
Lunch time is 12.30 p.m. and finishes by 1.30 p.m. Afternoon snack time is 4 p.m. and finishes by 4.30 p.m. Dinner time is 6.30 p.m. and finishes by 8 p.m. (including 
dessert if it’s Dessert Day)

Dear family, do not ask for food, or take food, at
other times when the kitchen is closed. You can have water at any time of the day, other drinks are during set mealtimes only, with the exception of tea and coffee for the grown-ups.

Your meal timetable is best kept on the fridge or somewhere prominent so you can point to it whenever your child wants to graze or break the mealtime rules. However, the household rules should be for everyone including you. You can modify this meal timetable to suit your own household needs. As your child gets older, you will need to update this timetable as the meal times will inevitably change. Younger children may need to have breakfast (or a bottle) earlier in the morning and teens may want to have dinner later, after homework time. Give your family notice and a quick explanation when mealtimes change so they feel included in the decision process.


If your child really wants that chocolate biscuit and you don’t mind giving it to them you can use this moment to market it in a negative manner. Fast food advertisers sometimes do this when they imply their competitor’s products are inferior. Just don’t expect your child to shun the sweet treats straight away. You are just planting the seed – junk food is inferior. This technique should be used in conjunction with positive marketing of nutritious food.

  • You could say ‘You can have a biscuit, but keep in mind it won’t make you strong. If you want to be strong you can have some Power Fruit’.

Your child will probably still choose the biscuit (and this is okay) but a negative association has been planted. Your child will soon identify that although biscuits taste good, they are not a reward as they don’t offer anything of real value. Don’t say ‘It’s bad for you’ as kids sometimes like to be bad. And keep away from ‘It’ll make you fat!’ as you don’t want them to become obsessive about their weight or appearance.

Whenever serving any junk food or dessert use subtle negative marketing such as,

  •  ‘You can have it but it won’t make you strong’.
  • Or say ‘You can have it but it may make it hard to concentrate and do clever things’.


Children thrive on genuine praise. If your child tries a new vegetable or eats a healthy meal, notice this and give a detailed appraisal. For example ‘I like how you listened to me and tried to eat some spinach. I’m proud of your efforts’. Research has show that when a parent praises a child’s efforts, rather than praising how ‘smart’ they are, a child is more likely to try harder in future. This is because ‘effort’ is something that a child can control (as opposed to winning and being the smartest in class) and children who are taught to value effort are less likely to fear failure.

It’s also wise to tell another person, such as your child’s other parent or a friend’s parent about your child’s good behaviour. Do this when your child is within earshot as the repetition of praise will make them feel good and it reinforces the good behaviour, making it more likely to occur again. Public praise is very powerful – use it often.

Be patient and persistent

A child may need to try a new food up to ten times before they begin to like the taste of it. So don’t give up (or give in) prematurely. Be subtly persistent and use praise and positive marketing each time you serve the particular food.


Have you ever noticed when you tell a child they can’t have something (such as chocolate) they want it more. Some kids can even become obsessed with sweets if they have tasted how good they are and then are told they’re forbidden. It’s like saying no means this food or product has extra special powers and grown- ups want to keep it for themselves.

It’s like the Adam and Eve story when they were told they could have anything in the Garden of Eden, except the fruit from the apple tree. Eve believed the notion that apples contained special information that God wanted to keep for himself and she was tempted into trying one.

I occasionally use reverse psychology on my daughter to get her to ask for healthy food more often. She falls for it so quickly I almost feel bad about using this tactic. We could be at the supermarket and she asks for an apple (which she wants to eat immediately) and I’ll say ‘I’m not sure if you can have an apple. Only if you’re very good’. She will persist and I’ll say ‘Let me think about it. I’ll put the apple in the trolley but you can only have it if you help me find healthy food to put in the trolley. When we’ve finished shopping, I’ll decide if you can have it’. In essence, this phrasing is suggesting an apple is a special treat (like chocolate) and should be restricted in some way.

I heard a similar story on the radio. A caller said she used to say to her very young child ‘If you’re a good girl you can have a mushroom as a treat’. And over the years when her daughter was good she was rewarded with a fresh mushroom. The caller said her daughter was now thirteen and still loved mushrooms as a special treat.

If you notice your child is growing stronger (if they’re getting rough with siblings or harder to wrestle with) you can use reverse psychology to reinforce healthy eating. For example say ‘Hey, you’re getting too strong, I’ll have to eat more veggies than you tonight!’

If your child beats you at a board game you could say ‘Have you been eating more vegetables?’ or ‘You must be cleverer because I can’t seem to beat you anymore! Have you been eating more fish or grainy bread?’ If you have served your child these foods (and should know the answer already) then you can say ‘You must be cleverer because I can’t seem to beat you anymore! I’ll have to eat more fish and grainy bread so I can win the next game’. Kids just adore being smarter than their parents, even if only for a fleeting moment.

My partner often uses reverse psychology. If my daughter complains about her dinner he’ll enthusiastically say ‘I’ll eat it! Then I can be stronger than you’. She always replies ‘No way!’ and then finishes her vegetables.

If your child does not immediately ask for a serve of veggies or wholegrains after using healthy marketing on them don’t panic. And don’t get overzealous and force healthy food into them on the spot. You will only look desperate and your child may view your efforts with suspicion. Give your marketing time to sink in. Just plant the seed each day – vegetables help you achieve your goals – and then keep vegetables and other healthy food prepared and within reaching distance for convenience.


    Adolescents are a bit trickier when it comes to successfully marketing nutritious food to them. As a parent, your best bet is to appeal to their vanity or need to fit in with their peers. You can’t fight a teenager’s tendency to favour a friend or celebrity’s opinion over yours, so you may as well use them to your advantage.

    Skin problems such as acne

    • Say ‘Vegetables, wholegrains and fish are essential for beautiful skin so I’ll make you a special ‘clear skin’ dinner tonight’.

    • Say ‘I have the recipe for a special beauty smoothie for clear skin. I’ll make it for you as a special treat’. (See Recipes in Appendix 4.)

    Exam stress

    • Say ‘Wholegrains can help you concentrate and do well during study and exams so I’ll make you a grainy sandwich for lunch today’.

    Image problems

    * Say ‘_______ (insert celebrity name) swears by eating salmon, veggies and wholegrains to look good. I’ll make you their secret recipe for dinner tonight’. (See Celebrity Salmon and Mash recipe in Appendix 4.)

    FAQ: ‘My eldest child is a bit of a trouble-maker. When I am trying to market healthy food to the younger children he mocks my comments about vegetables and he tells the kids I’m lying. What do I do?’

    It’s a good idea to speak to your eldest (or most cynical) child prior to implementing the healthy marketing on the little ones. However, you can do this at any time even after you have begun using your healthy mottoes on the kids.

    First step is to confide in your eldest child (as though they’re a respected adult) and enlist them as your helper. They may not want to comply if there is nothing in it for them but if you can answer the question ‘What’s in it for me if I help you?’ you will soon have an ally not a saboteur. Maybe extra pocket money or the promise to drive them to their friend’s house (or whatever) more often could be their reward if you feel it’s warranted.

    Also make sure you let him know that you are telling the youngest children the truth about vegetables and other healthy food but you are wording it in ‘baby’ language so the little ones will understand. You can say ‘I know my explanations about vegetables may sound silly to you but I must keep it simple for the little kids. You’re much more advanced so you may prefer to hear the scientific reasons why vegetables and wholegrains can make you clever and better at sport’ (your child will be beaming with pride on the inside if you praise his intelligence).

    If he is extra cheeky he will expect you to reel off the scientific stuff on the spot. There are some scientific explanations in this book if you want to memorise them and tell him the explanations yourself. It does not matter if these explanations are a bit too complex or ‘boring’ as the cheeky child should be satisfied you are telling the truth. On the other hand, do not attempt to make up scientific explanations as he could lose respect for you if he doesn’t believe you.

    Alternatively, when you tell your eldest it can be explained scientifically, quickly add that he would have to ask a nutritionist if he wanted to know more.

    While you are marketing nutritious food to your youngest children some of the information should sink in with your eldest child. So you will probably find he starts eating more vegetables during this time.


    If your child is overweight and they say they want to look better you can not only mention vegetables and wholegrains, you can also bring up exercise and drinking water. However, not wanting to be overweight doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll take up any healthy activities. Not wanting something is not much of a motivator. So it’s vital to link exercise and healthy eating habits with something they love.

    For example, if they love computer games and want to spend most of their time playing them, then say ‘Exercise will help you concentrate better while playing games’. You can also incorporate ‘computer’ finger stretches into their exercise routine so they think they’re working towards better computing skills. I know this may sound ridiculous to you but you must think in terms of what your child desires most, not what you desire for your child.

    I’ll use myself as a prime example: I have always hated exercise and I often joke that my body has a natural aversion to movement. For the last couple of years I’ve been experiencing pain in my hands from typing and hunching over my computer 

    all day. But these pains go away when I do a daily routine of ten minute stretches that were recommended by my physiotherapist. These stretches are easy and they get me quick relief but I can never motivate myself to do them. Pain has never been a good motivator for me.

    It is a similar story with chronically overweight people. Pain and the embarrassment of being big is not enough motivation for them to persevere with healthy changes. In fact, their pain often fuels further overeating and increases their low self- esteem and poor willpower.

    My lack of motivation finally changed when I went to see my daughter’s dancing concert. It was inspiring with so many great dancers of all shapes and sizes, and I realised I have a burning desire to learn how to dance. I always knew this but at the age of eighteen I told myself I was too old to start dancing. Now at 35, while seven months pregnant I suddenly realised I could take up dancing as a serious hobby. I essentially gave myself permission not only to dream about it but also to take some action towards it.

    I decided to start preparing for dancing lessons immediately in the only way I could – with ten minutes of stretches each day – and after I had my baby I could do two beginners dance classes each week. I planned the babysitting and I called my morning stretch routine my ‘dancing stretches’. These stretches were simply my physio stretches plus a few yoga moves I learnt years ago. And the funny thing is, since giving myself permission to be a dancer I have been inspired to get up at 5.30 each morning to do my ‘dancing stretches’. I don’t even have to force myself and I never forget.

    So when trying to get your child to exercise, eat well or behave, link these goals of yours with their passions – their favourite sports or their most loved academic interests – as they will ignite your child’s motivation and willpower like nothing else.

    If your child loves computers, exercise can become ‘Computer fitness training’.


    If your child is overweight you should also assess if they are sleeping enough. Teenagers need nine hours of sleep each night. Less sleep has been linked with being overweight, as when you’re tired you are more likely to crave sweet treats and overeat.

    This is also true for younger children. A study published in the American medical journal Pediatrics found that primary school children should have ten hours of sleep each night in order to stay in shape. Every extra hour a Year Three student spent sleeping reduced their chance of being obese by 40 per cent by the time they reached Year Six. More than ten hours of sleep showed no extra benefit.

    If your child won’t go to bed on time, link a good night’s sleep with their favourite hobby:

    • Say ‘Ten hours of sleep will make you a better tennis player because you’ll have more energy’.

    • If your child is young you can also say ‘It’s bed time, time to have your tennis sleep!’

    FAQ: ‘My child sulks a lot and insists he is not interested in anything other than watching TV. How can I link eating healthy food to a hobby if he seems to lack interest in all other activities?’

    Inside each of us is a desire to do, create and achieve. Some children have strong and obvious desires while others are not so self-aware and may be genuinely unsure about their likes. In this case parents need to observe their child closely. These ‘unsure’ kids give hints all the time as to what they’re interested in but often parents project their own hopes and wants onto a child and miss the little tell-tale signs.

    A parent may take their boy to football practice just because he’s a boy and that’s what boys should do. If this child is reluctant to go, week in, week out, and he shows little interest while playing on the field he is saying ‘This is not me’. However, at home he may dance around the living room whenever music comes on or consistently climb on the furniture and drive the family mad. An observant parent may take this child to dancing, rock climbing or acrobatics classes.

    If a child has a habit of hitting others or loves wrestling and gets a bit rough, an observant parent might take this child to a martial arts or children’s boxing class. Often these classes instil in their pupils a sense of honour with the rules ‘only fight in the boxing ring’ or ‘in self defence’ and they can provide a healthy outlet for a child’s aggression.

    If your child is interested in television you can figure out some of their potential hobbies by listening to them and observing what TV programs they watch the most. Does your child light up when they see cars or a particular sport on TV?

    Or do they love the arts and crafts segments on Play School? Then you could take your child to an organised activity that correlates in some way.

    Do they love cartoons? Maybe they would like to learn more about drawing them or writing comedy pieces.

    Or does your child just love the magic of television? Maybe they would like to make their own show with a video camera or attend a fun acting class.

    You need to use your power of perception to work out what they like and what they naturally excel at. Every child has something they love to do. And every child has a talent or emerging flair, even if it’s shopping, house cleaning, building with blocks or dressing dolls. Don’t disregard these talents! Your child could grow up to be a highly paid clothes designer, property developer, interior designer or personal shopper who gets flown to New York to buy clothes for others.

    Don’t force your child to do something they obviously dislike but also don’t let your child give up too quickly on activities they seem mildly interested in. They may simply need a bit of time to master some basic skills. If your child complains about trying a new activity it’s important to insist your child sticks with it for at least a month (or a term if you paid for the whole term in advance).

    When I was a child I was shy. This meant I would get embarrassed if I couldn’t do something straight away and I would give up quickly, even if I loved the activity. I did this with dancing and I still regret giving up dancing when I moved to a different state ... I was too shy to say yes to signing up to a new class. 

    So don’t let shyness stop your child from participating, especially if they show signs of interest in an activity.

    If your child is reluctant to try a new hobby or continues to insist they don’t like doing anything then they may have low self-esteem. When a child has little confidence in themselves and thinks they are of no value, they can become difficult to handle or apathetic about life. If you suspect this is the case, you can spend extra time playing with and listening to your child as this will help them feel more valuable. Give genuine praise when warranted and speak to a psychologist if your child doesn’t improve.

    Key points to remember

    • This week set one or two new rules and convince your child that you are setting them for their sole benefit, not yours.

    • When setting new rules keep the language you use simple and worded in a manner that is suitable for your child’s age and understanding.

    • Link your child’s favourite interests with eating healthy food and their dislikes, such as getting pimples or losing a game of football, with eating junk food.

    • Tell them when ‘sometimes’ is.

    • Tell them ‘You can help make the rules’.

    • Set specific mealtimes and put a chart detailing them on the wall or somewhere prominent. Also tell your child when the kitchen is closed – give them a ‘kitchen is closed in ten minutes’ warning so there is no confusion.

    • Praise your child’s efforts when they eat healthy food. It is their effort – the fact they tried – that should be focused on.

    • Create a positive association between healthy food and pleasure but don’t be too hasty to push nutritious food onto them – they will resist if you seem desperate.

    • Plant the seed each day – vegetables help you to be successful and happy – and keep vegetables and other healthy food prepared and within reaching distance. Make healthy food more convenient than junk food. (See Appendix 2 for more details.)

    • Say ‘I love you’ to your child and show them this is true by giving them some of your time, including one on one listening and genuine praise.

    • Give your child at least one day’s notice if you are setting a new household rule so they don’t think the new rule is a parental whim. 


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