How to help kids love healthy food

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By Marketa Stastna
Posted: March 2014

Lulu Cohen-Farnell creates nutritious meals from scratch for 10,000 children a day. She shares her secrets for helping them love what’s good for them

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Lulu Cohen-Farnell: Making small changes in kids’ diets is easier than people think.

France has arguably one of the world’s most renowned cuisines. So it’s perhaps not surprising that Parisian born Lulu Cohen-Farnell is the founder and driving force behind Real Food for Real Kids (RFRK), a Toronto-based catering company that offers fresh, nutritious meals and snacks to schools, childcare centres and camps.

RFRK feeds more than 10,000 kids each day. Besides offering healthy, appealing meals, the company is committed to changing the way kids perceive food and eat foods, offering menus that celebrate world flavours and locally and sustainably grown foods. RFRK meals always include two servings of fresh vegetables and fruit.

We sat down with Lulu, a mother of two, food enthusiast and entrepreneur, to chat about the realities of providing healthy meals to thousands of kids.

Why did you get interested in nutrition and starting RFRK?
I founded RFRK in 2004. I was motivated by the lack of awareness of the importance of feeding young children nutritious, healthy, delicious foods. I grew up in Paris in a family where cooking and sharing real food meals made from scratch was not an option but a raison d'etre – something integrated into our culture and traditions.

The reason I started RFRK 10 years ago is the same today – to enable and inspire healthy eating, and to help families embrace real foods and live a healthier happier life. RFRK quickly became a family affair when my husband David Farnell joined me to fulfill our mission.

We help cultivate good food values, expand children's palates, and aim to enhance the nutritional IQs of all of our stakeholders: children, parents, caregivers, and their communities.

On those happy, healthy foundations, we hope that these kids will build life-long habits of healthy eating and sustainable living.

Why is it important to you that your kids eat well?
Our daily food choices affect our health and dictate how we feel today, tomorrow and in the future.

I consider teaching my kids to eat healthy is a parent’s duty. It’s a child’s right to get the nutrients their body needs to stay healthy, active, and strong.

Making small changes in kids’ diets can go a long way, and it's easier than most people think!

How do you encourage your kids to eat well at home?
I take pride in cooking for my family and I always have fun doing it.

I prepare foods from scratch and make them colorful, beautiful and tasty. I always display three or four different dishes; that way my kids can pick their favourites and feel like they have a choice.

What have you learned about children’s food preferences?
Parents have always observed individual differences in children's willingness to try new foods, and many studies show that both exposure to different foods and genetic determinants play a part. It’s important to expose kids to healthy and tasty choices.

When they are used to eating delicious, healthy foods from an early age, that’s what they crave!

What tips do you have for parents who struggle to get their kids eating well?

  • Talk to your child about nutrition and the importance of developing a healthy body.
  • Offer a new food with a familiar one. Continue to offer new foods until your child considers them familiar.
  • Start the meal with veggies and fruits and when everyone has finished, serve the rest of the meal.
  • Institute the “two-bite” rule: Don’t make a big deal when your child rejects a food but stay cool and insist that he tries two bites.
  • Don’t let your child engage you in a power struggle: Consider the possible unspoken meanings of “I don’t like it.” This might really mean, “I’d rather have a piece of chocolate cake,” or “I’m not in the mood for that right now.”
  • Remember that children’s food preferences change frequently. What they don’t like on Wednesday might be a hit on Friday.
  • Applaud adventurous eating.
  • Don’t become a short-order cook.
  • Avoid food rewards.
  • Make your kitchen a beautiful space and have bowls of fruits and veggies available at all times.
  • Cook from scratch whenever possible. 

Most important, don’t give up! According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, many children will not accept a new food until it has been offered at least 10 times. Continue to offer new foods until your child considers them familiar.

It’s up to us adults to inspire our kids to eat healthy and deliciously. If we don’t make the right food choices for them, and show them the good example, who will? We want to give them the best opportunity for a healthy and happy life.

Nourishing school communities
Real Food for Real Kids is working with the Heart and Stroke Foundation and other partners in Nourishing School Communities, an initiative to create healthy food environments in schools. As part of the initiative, the Foundation’s Health Check program has certified RFRK’s Lunch Club spring 2014 menu as meeting its heart-healthy nutrition guidelines.

Nourishing School Communities is funded by the federal government through the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer’s (CPAC) Coalitions Linking Action & Science for Prevention (CLASP) initiative. Learn more about CLASP.

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