Healthy Eating Habits
Young children establish healthy eating habits by following the lead of their parents.
Here are some handy hints, to encourage healthy eating habits in children:
- To encourage healthy eating habits in children offer small serves of food. Your child can always ask for a second helping.
- Healthy eating can be promoted through offering a variety of foods to children from a very young age.
Children may reject a new food the first or second time it is offered, but keep persisting as a new food will soon become a 'usual' food and so become a normal part of a child's healthy diet. Be aware that there may be some foods that your child will never eat.
Involving your child in shopping, meal planning and cooking can help develop healthy eating habits by promoting a positive attitude to a healthy diet. Simple activities for young children such as getting spoons out of the drawer or asking them to stir a bowl can help develop their understanding of a nutritious diet.
- Talk to your children about different fruits and vegetables, such as where they grow and how you prepare or cook them. Knowledge of the foods they are eating, can encourage healthy eating habits for children. Make sure all members of your family are adopting healthy eating habits. If parents and older siblings model healthy eating, younger children are more likely to adopt the behaviour
- Use positive terms to refer to healthy food, for example, 'I love eating crunchy green beans'.
- Make eating a social occasion. Turn off the television and talk about the day.
- Breakfast is the most important time for healthy eating. Children function better when they begin the day with a nutritious meal. Some examples of healthy breakfast meals are wholegrain cereal with fruit, yoghurt and milk, wholemeal toast with mashed banana and a glass of milk, or a poached egg with wholemeal toast fingers followed by cut up apple pieces.
- Avoid bribing your child with food.
You should find fun and interactive ways to introduce healthy eating habits for children. Here are some tips that can make food fun:
- Allow toddlers to touch and feel their food. This is part of the learning experience and helps develop a positive attitude to a nutritious diet which in turn promotes healthy eating habits.
- Children respond to different colours and shapes, so supply them with a mixture of foods in all textures, colours, shapes and sizes.
- Use different types of bread to make sandwiches. For example: one slice of white and one slice of wholemeal; wraps; or mini rolls. Offering variety helps children develop healthy eating habits.
- A healthy childhood diet should include a variety of fruits and vegetables and the following ideas can help make them attractive to children.
- Make a face with salad vegetables on a plate (e.g. cucumber slices as eyes, grated carrot hair, cherry tomato nose and celery mouth). This is fun and can contribute to child's healthy diet.
- For breakfast, always ensure that fresh fruit is available for your child. Healthy eating starts with the first meal of the day. You can add banana, sultanas or apple to their cereal or simply cut up different fruits and serve them in a side bowl.
- Fruit and vegetables make healthy snacks for your child's lunchbox. Snacking on a bag of celery or carrot sticks or a bag of small tomatoes instead of a bag of chips offers children healthy eating alternatives.
- Use avocado as a substitute to butter in your children's sandwiches or dried biscuits and always try to include a vegetable in their sandwiches.
- Snack time at school should be exciting for your children. Healthy eating can become a treat if you provide a range of textures and colours in their food. Children respond to new and exciting sensations. Provide them with an assortment of colours such as slices of cheese, apple, carrot, sultanas, watermelon, grapes and strawberries.
- Have a visible bowl of fruit available for your children. Healthy eating habits will increase if fruits and vegetables are the closest option available when your children are hungry.
- Offer fresh fruit in preference to fruit juice or processed fruit bars.Children's healthy eating habits will stem from the subtlest changes in their diet. When they ask for a snack before dinner, offer beans, snow peas or carrot and celery sticks rather than pre-packaged foods.
- Offer your children a choice of three or four vegetables with dinner. If they are able to choose the vegetables they are served, they may be less likely to refuse them.
- It is important that you introduce a variety of fruits and vegetables from a young age.
You must also remember that the most effective way to encourage healthy eating habits for children is to adopt similar habits yourself.
Children adopt the behaviours they see in their siblings, parents, carers and teachers. When you are introducing new foods and eating habits to your children, remember to talk about healthy eating in a positive way, and try to make healthy eating for children as fun and interactive as possible.