8 Step Guide to Healthy Eating for Kids
Simple strategies to help your kids develop healthy eating habits.
Children’s growing brains are like sponges, constantly soaking up all sorts of information from the things they see and hear in the world around them. When it comes to helping your children develop healthy eating habits for life, you’re their most important role model.
Here are eight ways you can help your children eat well.
1. Lead by example
Eat your fruit and vegetables and let your kids see you enjoy them. Children who see the people around them eating fruit and vegetables as part of a healthy balanced diet are more likely to eat them too and develop healthy eating habits themselves.
2. Share family meals
Spending time together at the dinner table enjoying family
meals can help children develop a healthier relationship with food and enhance
your parent-child relationship.
Allowing the whole family to serve themselves at the dinner table can also be a good way to involve
children with their food. Letting them choose what foods they would like, and
how much, will help them to feel more in control of what they are eating.
3. Remove distractions
Turn off the TV and put away any phones, tablets, toys and books at meal times so your little ones focus all their attention on eating and trying new foods.
4. Don’t ‘label’ food
As a parent, you can influence your children’s relationship with food with the words you use. The key is to encourage your child to try new foods without pressuring, restricting or forcing them. Instead of saying “Please eat this because I spent a lot of time making it”, try to focus on the food and say things like “These carrots are crunchy”.
Avoid labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, as this may lead your child to associate certain emotions with food, such as guilt, which can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. Instead of talking about foods being ‘naughty’, talk about them being ‘sometimes’ foods.
5. Avoid using food as a reward
It can be tempting to comfort a crying child with lollies, or to offer dessert as an incentive to finish their dinner, but this could contribute to an unhealthy relationship with food later on. Offering dessert in exchange for eating vegetables can send the message that vegetables aren’t enjoyable to eat, while regularly receiving food as a comfort might teach your child to comfort eat later in life.
6. Have a routine for meals
Children need routine to help them feel secure and safe. If there is an eating routine in place they will know that food time isn’t too far away and learn to stay in touch with the hunger and fullness signals from their body. Offer healthy nutritious food every 2.5 to 3 hours: little ones’ tummies fill up quickly and empty quickly too!
7. Keep trying!
Children’s tastes can change day to day and week to week, so just because they didn’t want to eat carrots last week doesn’t mean they’ll reject them this week.
It can take a while for little ones to trust new foods and even longer to like them. Sweet, salty and fatty foods are easier to eat and often taste better, so children are naturally drawn to them. More nutritious foods can take longer to like; some sources say children need up to 15 exposures to trust a food enough to try it and another 10 to 15 tastes to like it, so don’t give up!
8. Make food fun
Serve foods in a variety of ways, such as raw (if appropriate), cooked, or arranged in different shapes (batons, circles, diced, arranged as faces) to give your kids lots of different experiences. Try giving foods creative names to get their imaginations going (for example, call broccoli ‘little trees’ and let them plant it in their mashed potato).
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It may take time, but with a bit of patience you can set your children up with healthy eating habits for life.