As mothers, one of our prime concerns with little children is are they eating enough and are they getting enough nutrition.
Food is obviously incredibly important as it fuels our bodies to grow, play, learn and protect us from sickness.
Today, food in our culture is prevalent enough that we actually have an over-abundance of it. In today’s generation, food has become more about developing appropriate eating habits to assist our children in making the healthiest choices they can around, as well as learning to love and respect their food choices.
So, how do we develop healthy eating habits in young children?
These five tips are based on young toddlers to pre-schooler ages, but it is completely appropriate for older children (and husbands too!). It is never too late to start following a healthy eating plan.
Five Tips For Developing Healthy Eating Habits In Young Kids
1. Play with food
This sounds like it shouldn’t be a healthy eating habit, but playing with food, especially for bubs and toddlers is such an important sensory process. It’s part of their sensory development. Yes it can be messy, and there is playing and then there is throwing, and smearing it on the wall, but the simple act of children exploring their meal should be allowed and encouraged.
Try not to wipe their hands and mouths every few moments. Let them feel, taste, explore and touch.
Snacking is incredibly important for children as they have small stomachs. But there are snacks and there are snacks……
If you would like your child, toddler or pre-schooler to eat the breakfast, lunch and dinner you prepare, there needs to be a cut-off time in snacks and also appropriate snacks chosen.
Snacks do not need to be biscuits, cakes, milkshakes or supermarket bars. The best choices are fruit, yoghurt, dips, vegetable and whole food based choices. For more healthy and kid friendly snack recipes and ideas, click HERE.
When children are little, they do go through phases of not eating at particular times because they just don’t feel like it. By having better choices on hand, you know that even if they only eat 2 peas for dinner, their afternoon tea was at least ½ a carrot and some pesto ,with strawberry smooshed in there.
Sounds delicious but it is also great because you have ticked off a few food groups in there.
3. Meal times
- Think about your family dynamics and discuss with your partner whether you will eat with the kids or not.
- Dinner should be a television and screen free zone for all family members.
- Dinner is best at a table but if all family members are in a tizz, maybe a picnic in the living room is a good idea too.
- Ensure your child has a comfortable chair, high chair or booster seat so they are able to sit well and reach their food easily.
- Most importantly try and make meal times enjoyable to some degree (and breathe in and breathe out).
I elaborate more in my article on Division of Responsibility, but you are the parent so you need to decide where and when you are eating.
4. Parental style
There has been quite a lot of research into how we as parents behave around food, eat food and talk about food with our children, affects their habits and choices.
- Try and be positive around food and think of food as fuel for our bodies.
- Food shouldn’t be used for bribery as it doesn’t end up with a child actually enjoying the particular type of food you are trying to get them to eat.
- Food should not be given to ‘cheer’ children up as this can lead to emotional eating.
- Try not to give food as a reward as it develops into an emotional attachment.
- Try and be positive when the children are eating, not stressed or forceful for them to eat, finish their meals. We need to build trust and a happy environment around meal time. Think back to your childhood about what you did or didn’t like.
Parental style can be confusing and tiering but it also very important.
5. Division of responsibility
Read our full article on how division of responsibility works.