Try out our top ten tips to support positive eating habits
Early childhood is an important time to establish positive and healthy eating habits with your child. Supporting children to adopt healthy eating habits from a young age can contribute to their dietary habits later in life. Researchers have found evidence that eating behaviors and meal habits in early childhood have an impact on children’s food preferences and eating patterns in adulthood.
Offer your child a variety of healthy foods across their meals, such as fruits and vegetables. These are easy to prepare but also provide children with a healthy snack and a healthy choice. As a result, you are helping to shape your child’s food preferences as they are more likely to enjoy those foods they are offered regularly.
2. Social meal times
Children learn eating habits through observation. It is important that children see parents, friends and siblings enjoying eating healthy foods; this means they are more likely to eat these too. Allow your child to have the same foods as you at mealtimes and where possible eat together. Food and eating is a social aspect of life, so enjoy this time with your child and talk with them about anything you like! Why not talk to your child about the different foods they are eating? For example, you could tell them that the milk they are drinking will help keep their teeth and bones strong or that their banana snack means they will have lots of energy! You could also talk about where their food comes from. This is a great way to support their understanding of keeping themselves healthy, their understanding of the world and developing their vocabulary.
A food routine is important to ensure children eat at suitable times throughout the day. For example, children are less likely to eat their food if they are tired or over hungry. It is also important children have enough time to eat, so they are not rushing trying to eat their meals.
Provide choice for your child at meal times, for example between drinking milk or water or having cucumber or tomato in their salad. If your child only eats small amounts, then support this by offering smaller portions of food, praising them even if they only eat a little bit. From a young age, children can be encouraged to choose what they put on their plate, encouraging them to make healthy choices and developing their fine motor skills. Why not try having some salad they can serve using tongs or vegetables they can serve using a spoon? Children are much more likely to eat food they have chosen to put on their plate.
5. Be positive
If children are forced or pressured to eat specific foods, this can lead to them building up a negativity towards these foods or they may become fussy with certain foods. Try introducing these foods another time. Children’s tastes change all the time and they need to be offered foods on more than one occasion. Never force them to eat everything on their plate; this can lead to children over eating. Instead, praise them for having a try.
Sugary treats should only be given in moderation. Avoid using sweets or sugary snacks to reward positive behaviour, as children will learn that these foods are being given to them when being rewarded for good behavior.
7. Get them involved
Children love to be involved, so involve them when shopping or helping to prepare the dinner, encouraging your child to see and be involved with preparing healthy foods. This doesn't have to be complicated; next time you have wraps or sandwiches at home, prepare small bowls of filling that your child can choose to make their own!
8. Trying new foods
Children are less likely to be fussy eaters if they are introduced to a wide range of new foods. A good idea is to introduce a small portion of something new as a starter or side dish that they can have as well as their main meal.
9. Stay calm!
When children are not keen on their food or refuse to eat something, it can be really disheartening (especially if you've spent a long time preparing something delicious!) However, try to ignore any challenging behaviour and stay calm. Focus instead on praising any positive behaviour such as sitting nicely or holding their cutlery correctly. Also give encouragement and praise when your child tries something new.
Invite your child to join in with physical activities. This helps maintain a healthy lifestyle, as well as physical activities providing various learning opportunities for the children and their development.