Establishing healthy eating habits early on in life makes it much more likely your child will grow well, stay well, function well and succeed well in life.
Helping children develop a healthy relationship with food is one of the most important responsibilities of good parenting. Establishing healthy eating habits early on in life makes it much more likely your child will grow well, stay well, function well and succeed well in life. With such fast growing bodies and brains, children need regular, nourishing food to supply nutrients for optimal growth and development.
For some parents and carer’s this can sometimes present a challenge. Meal times can deteriorate into a battle of wills, tastes and preferences can be very limited, sometimes leading to nutritional deficiencies. Some useful tips include:
- Lead by example; let your children see you enjoying a wide variety of healthy foods.
- Eat meals at the table in a relaxed environment. Keep arguments and distractions such as TV and toys away from mealtimes, model for them the pleasure and enjoyment of sitting and having a meal together.
- Be realistic in your portion expectations – we can all feel daunted and put off by too large a meal size.
- As much as possible, all have the same meal
- Don’t give up offering something – just because they didn’t like it last week doesn’t mean they won’t love it next week! Their taste buds, just like the rest of their body are maturing and developing all the time.
- Don’t force them to eat – it is just going to put focus on the negative behaviour and potentially inspire future rebellion and oppositional behaviour. It is generally much better to focus and reward positive outcomes.
- Try to avoid over repeating the foods that you know they do like – a wide variety of food is very important for children.
- Don’t prepare more than one meal for your child. If they don’t feel like eating what you have prepared, don’t force them, they won’t starve, if they are hungry they will eat.
- Only keep healthy foods in the house, children will then pick from the healthy choices
- Most children love cooking, let them help you prepare family meals and daytime snacks
- Sometimes a different environment can work wonders – pack a picnic of healthy foods and head to the nearest park or beach, or just lay a blanket out in the back yard with a beach umbrella for shade.
- Tea parties are another fun way to eat morning or afternoon tea. Use herbal tea bags and mix a little juice with it.
- Make food look interesting, presentation is important, try to make healthy food look as enticing as the junk food that is advertised. For example, use cookie cutters to make shapes in vegetables
- Let children help with buying foods, let them choose some of the fruits and vegetables at the shop
Sometimes, children’s taste and interest in food is affected by other factors like nutrient deficiencies or food sensitivities.