The healthy eating habits we teach our children when they are young, are the ones they will carry with them in to adulthood. Starting early with kids is key, as soon as they begin eating solid food – this is the time when they are primed for us to help shape their taste preferences, regulate their appetites and establish healthy eating habits. For some of you, it may be too late for that, but fear not, there are still plenty of things you can do to encourage healthy eating habits.
- Involve kids in every aspect of the meal preparation, from choosing recipes to shopping for ingredients, growing or choosing their own veggies, cooking and taking dishes to the table – they’ll be more likely to eat the food they have helped create!
- Eat together whenever possible. Make meal times enjoyable and relaxed and turn off the TV and all devices. When screens distract kids while they eat, their body isn’t focused at the task at hand – digesting food. Kids are also more likely to eat more food, feel less satisfied and have no record of what they just ate when distracted by TV or devices.
- Set a good example for your children by eating a wide variety of healthy foods – you can’t expect your kids to have healthy eating habits if you don’t.
- Expand your child’s palette by introducing a wide variety for flavours and textures. Don’t assume they won’t like a food just because they are kids or because you don’t like that food.
- Take the pressure off. While pressuring your child to eat is generally counterproductive, it’s important to encourage them to have a little taste of new and different foods. “Just try it, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it” – this works well to encourage food exploration with your child feeling safe knowing that it’s their decision if they want to keep eating it or not.
- Avoid telling them to “finish everything on your plate”. This interferes with a child’s natural appetite regulation, can make them resent meal times and contribute to “plate clearing” weight problems in adulthood. Encouraging your child to be guided by their own appetite and when they “feel” hungry and full will support a healthy relationship with their own body and what it needs.
- Start the day right. Breakfast is essential for kids – it gives them the energy they need to get through the day as well as learn and concentrate. If your child isn’t hungry in the morning, at least have them eat a smoothie (with protein) or some fruit and yoghurt.
- Healthy snacks. Snacks that contain protein and healthy fats keep blood sugar levels balanced and kids away from unhealthy foods. Try a snack plate with things like veggie sticks & dips, fruit, cheese, yoghurt, homemade muffins or bliss balls, nuts & seeds and rice crackers etc.
- Remember, as the parent, you choose the quality of the food, when it gets eaten and where and your child chooses the quantity of what they eat. This is called the Remember the Division of Responsibility (sDOR). With support and an appropriate eating environment, children can naturally decide what they eat and self-regulate around food.