START Initiative – What Is It?
The START Initiative is a campaign set up by Safe Food to help tackle childhood obesity. The mantra of the initiative is: one daily win can start your child on the way to a healthier life. By encouraging your family to make small changes towards a healthier lifestyle, you can lay the foundations for your child to eat better, be more active and prevent obesity or poor health.
Pre START Initiative – A Background On Us
Prior to taking part in this campaign Finn, my 8 year old, would have had a typical child diet. He refused to touch fruit, vegetables or dairy. Meat was limited. He would insist on only consuming processed foods like chips, goujons, sausages, bread etc.. I constantly worried about his health. Meal times were a huge source of stress. Dinner was accompanied by a symphony of ‘eat your dinner’ ‘just try it’. We tried everything, or so we thought.
We Made A Start
After Halloween, I sat Finn down and explained that we all needed to become healthier together. I told him there would be some new but simple rules that we were going to follow together. Our changes were going to be:
1- Less time in front of screens e.g. TV, Tablets, Phones
2- One new fruit and vegetable introduced every week
3- Treats were being reduced to once a week
4- Majority of meals were going to be prepared at home
5- We were going to become more active
This was of course met with resistance and to be honest I was prepared for battle. We picked a week where I had some time off work and our routine was as normal as possible. I explained to Finn that this wasn’t a punishment for him. It was something we were going to try as a family. Together. To make Finn feel like he had some control I gave him meal options for the week and he got to chose what dish we made. He also got to chose which fruit and vegetable we introduced.
How We Handled Treats
We let Finn know that there would still be treats, just not everyday. We decided as a family that we would pick saturday as a day where we would do something nice or enjoy a meal of Finn’s choice. Little tweaks we made were:
Finn was used to having the tablet whenever he wanted. We told him he would have to earn his time on that from now by completing little tasks e.g. dirty clothes in linen basket, making bed, taking plate to sink after dinner, completing homework in a timely manner. We found after a few days instead of asking for chocolate after dinner, he was asking for the tablet! Taking the focus of the reward off food and onto something else he valued allowed us to easily eliminate the amount of sugar he ate.
We researched some recipes for healthier versions of our favourite cakes. Such as my healthy Chocolate Brownie Recipe HERE or my Healthier Pancake Recipe using 125g of wholemeal flour, 1 whole egg and 300mls of milk to make a batter. Finn got involved in making these with me and enjoyed every bite!
We also eliminated fizzy drinks. Finn now only drinks water or milk. To be honest he doesn’t miss it. Even in my parents house last week he only asked for water when thirsty. Considering I wasn’t there and Grandparents are known for giving all things sugary, I classed this as a win.
Becoming More Active
Being active as a family is free. Getting outside for a walk or riding a bike doesn’t cost a thing. We also offered Finn the option to join a local Karate class. He did not enjoy this at first but after the second class he grew to love it. Just three weeks later he had his first grading and achieved his orange belt!!!
Final Words of Advice
When dealing with changes focus on the action not on the outcome. I would praise Finn for all the effort he was making even if he didn’t like a particular dish or eat a new vegetable. Children love to hear they are doing well. Finn loves to hear that we are proud of him. Use a reward chart. Set a reward at the start of the week and work towards it. It could be a new book, joining the library, a trip to the cinema, a food treat they enjoy, a visit to their favourite place. Whatever works for you, your child and your budget.
Not every recipe will be a success. Have one or two up your sleeve that they won’t even realize is healthy like my Hidden Veg Pasta dish HERE. Try making healthier versions of their favourites. For example make burgers and chips at home using lean steak mince, wholemeal buns and potatoes cooked in the oven.
The food I would encourage you to eat is readily available and economic to buy. There are very competitively priced supermarkets now to allow you to cook nutritious meals at home without breaking the bank. Cook ahead and freeze in portions so you are prepared. The extra time once or twice a week will reap rewards on that busy wednesday night when you have a million things to do!
START Initiative – Our Results
I go into more detail about our results in the video I have uploaded to my facebook page HERE. The difference has been subtle but substantial. Finn’s teacher has noticed and commented on an improvement in his concentration and his ability to complete a task. She can pin point the change in him to when we began our START. My mother has commented on how much calmer he is and we have noticed how much healthier he looks. He hasn’t got sick this winter yet either. We would usually be on cold number 2 or 3.
I would encourage any mother to read all the information available on the Safe Food website HERE and to join the START facebook group HERE. Please ask any questions you might have and let me know if you try anything I have suggested. Remember Parenting is tough, but you are tougher.