As a parent, one of our many jobs is to ensure our children are as healthy and happy as possible. However, getting our child to eat healthily is often easier said than done, at least the healthy part anyway.
When our babies were under six months old, it was easy to provide them with all the nutrients needed through breastmilk or formula. Still, as they transitioned to solid foods, it is not always as easy to ensure that they get all the required nutrients and be healthy.
Unfortunately, as soon as their tiny fingers figure out how to put things in their mouths, they are eating anything they lay their eyes on, whether crumbs off the floor, unhealthy food, healthy food, toys or dust balls – they all go into the mouth.
Eventually, however, they figure out what is food. Toys = not food. Cheese = food. Broccoli = maybe food. However, what they do not yet know is what is healthy and what is unhealthy food. So although they will eventually stop eating toys on their own, you will have to teach them that fruit and vegetables are not scary.
It's critical to be a healthy eating role model and don't give up. Start instilling good eating habits early on. Teaching sound nutrition is a lengthy process that requires years of fostering positive habits, ideals, and examples.
So, how do you get your child to eat healthily?
3 Key Points for Healthy Eating
Children who eat well do not consider themselves to be “healthy eaters.” They are simply eating what they enjoy.
In summary, when it comes to healthy eating, there are three key points to remember:
- Fruit and vegetables should make up about half of what your child eats.
- Processed/packaged food often contains many hidden sugars, salt and other chemicals and should be avoided where possible.
- Moderation is essential. Rather than banning certain foods altogether, teach your little one the importance of eating sweets and treats in moderation.
What is a Picky Eater?
Picky eaters are a common problem for parents. Between the ages of two and seven, many children are fussy and picky. It's essential not to worsen the situation by forcing your child to eat. Remember that patience is the key.
Suppose you are concerned about your child's eating and resistance to trying new foods. In that case, it is best to discuss this with your doctor to rule out any more severe but less common condition such as ARFID (Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder).
Why Does Eating Healthily Matter for Kids?
What they eat as children has a significant impact on their development. Nutritional-related issues can have a significant negative influence on both their mental and physical health. If you can encourage them to eat healthy foods, they'll have a solid foundation for future success.
They need to develop the right habits from a young age. If they develop a habit that they consider “normal” in their minds, it will become their default behaviour when they grow up. For example, if they consistently eat a sweet or treat for an afternoon snack, that will likely become a part of their routine as an adult. Alternatively, if for an afternoon snack there is a selection of cut fruits and vegetables within reach for them to snack on, this will also more likely become an adult habit.
In other words, children are a clean slate. Yes, they come with traits and tendencies, but you may mould them. It's easy to fall back on familiar foods or unhealthy meals when there's so much else to argue about with our noisy, sometimes stubborn children, but we must start them on the right path for their long-term eating habits.
15 Tips to Encourage Your Child to Eat Healthily
Tip 1 – Go food shopping together
Go shopping at the local fruit and vegetable market or grocery store together. As you shop, you can take the opportunity to talk about where fruit and vegetables come from and which are in season. You could also get them to choose one new vegetable and fruit to try for the week.
Before you go shopping, let them help you put the shopping list together, this will encourage them to get involved in the shopping process.
Tip 2 – Have some fun
Have some fun and create a plate of “healthy foods.” Depending on the age of your child, there are a few options for this activity. You can use plastic or wooden food for very young children and let them place the healthy foods onto a paper plate or in a toy shopping basket or trolley. If your child can draw, you can get a paper plate and ask them to draw or use stickers to create a meal of healthy foods. For older children, you can do a similar activity; however, get them to make their meal using foods from each of the four food groups.
You could also involve your children in planning the meals for the week, encouraging them to include different foods for each meal.
Tip 3 – Grow vegetables together
Even if you have a small space, you can grow some vegetables. This is a great way to teach your child about where vegetables come from. Let them plant the seeds, help you to water them and then pick the vegetables together once they are ready.
Tip 4 – Stick to the house rules
Agree with your partner on what is acceptable regarding eating and meal times in the house. This way, your child will not receive conflicting messages. If no food in front of the television or everyone has to be present for dinner time is a rule, then stick to this.
Tip 5 – Be consistent
Getting your child to eat healthy takes persistence and consistency. If your child is meeting all their growth milestones, if they have lots of energy to play and are sleeping well, they are getting enough nutrition, so do not feel guilty for denying them an extra biscuit or treat.
Tip 6 – Stick to your routine
We all know kids love routine, so serve them healthy snacks and water at specific times during the day. This may be for morning and afternoon tea as an example.
Tip 7 – Introduce new foods
Add variety to your child's diet to ensure they get plenty of vitamins and minerals. Don't be concerned if they reject new foods; this is normal. Do not force them to try the food; try another time again. Children often have to be presented with a new food 10 – 12 times before accepting it.
Tip 8 – Involve them
Make foods that your child can get involved with, like homemade pizzas, tacos or fajitas. Your child will love picking their toppings and fillings and helping you cook. Children are far more likely to try and eat something they have been involved with preparing.
Tip 9 – Eat at the table
Eating at the dinner table with no distractions is the best way to encourage your child to eat. Make mealtime a relaxed time where you share news about your day with each other and have some quality family time.
Tip 10 – Watch portion size
Large servings of food can feel overwhelming to your child. Do not pile your child's plate or fill their bowl to the top. Instead, serve smaller portions and give them a second helping if they are still hungry.
Tip 11 – Remain calm and patient
Mealtimes can be a challenging time, particularly if your child rejects all kinds of foods. As frustrating as it can be, remain calm and don't create conflict around food, eating and mealtimes.
Tip 12 – Don’t use bribery
Yes, it is tempting to bribe your child with a treat reward for eating their fruit or vegetables. However, if you do this every time, your child will come to expect this. Instead, give a treat once in a while after dinner as opposed to every evening.
Tip 13 – Get creative
There is nothing wrong with getting a bit creative to add fruit and vegetables into your child's diet. Make fruit smoothies or ice lollies for a healthy sweet treat—mix vegetables into sauces or pasta.
Tip 14 – Set an example and watch what you say
Suppose your child sees you sneaking sweets all day out of the cupboard or hears you saying that you need to lose weight and that xxx food is terrible for you. Your child will start to mimic and repeat these things. This can, unfortunately, lead to a lifetime of negative feelings towards food. Be optimistic about healthy foods and food in general.
Tip 15 – Tell them how it will benefit them
Educate your kids about how these healthy foods can benefit them. You don't have to go into detail, but you could use an analogy related to something they are interested in. For example, if your little boy loves cars, you can explain how cars need different things to run correctly. They need fuel, water and oil. If they only had one of these, then the engine would not work correctly. This is just the same as our bodies. Our bodies need all different foods to be able to function at their best.
Remember, you are setting the foundation for your child's relationship and views of food. These foundations are essential for creating the habits that your child will carry into adulthood.