Healthy eating can stabilise children’s energy, sharpen their minds, and even out their moods. While peer pressure and TV commercials for junk food can make getting kids to eat well seem impossible, there are steps parents can take to introduce healthy eating habits without turning mealtimes into a battle zone. By encouraging healthy eating habits now, you can make a huge impact on your children’s lifelong relationship with food and give them the best opportunity to grow into healthy, confident adults.
Developing healthy eating habits
Children develop a natural preference for the foods they enjoy the most, so the challenge is to make healthy choices appealing. You can do that by disguising the taste of healthy foods—adding vegetables to a beef stew, for example, or mashing carrots up with mashed potato, or adding a sweet dip to slices of apple. Of course, no matter how good your intentions, it’s always going to be difficult to convince your eight-year-old that an apple is as sweet a treat as a cookie.
The childhood impulse to imitate is strong, so it’s important you act as a role model for your kids. It’s no good asking your child to eat fruit and vegetables while you gorge on potato chips and soda.
Top tips to promote healthy childhood eating
Focus on overall diet rather than specific foods. To promote a lifelong healthy relationship with food, kids should be eating whole, minimally processed, nutritious food—food that is as close to its natural form as possible.
Have regular family meals. Knowing dinner is served at approximately the same time every night and that the entire family will be sitting down together is comforting and enhances appetite. Breakfast is another great time for a family meal.
Cook more meals at home. Eating home cooked meals is healthier for the whole family. It sets a great example for kids about the importance of food and can bring a family together—even moody teenagers love to eat tasty, home-cooked meals! Restaurant and takeout meals tend to have a lot more unhealthy fat, sugar, and salt so cooking at home can have a huge impact on your kids’ health. And if you make large batches, cooking just once or twice can be enough to feed your family for the whole week.
Get kids involved. Children enjoy helping adults to shop for groceries, selecting what goes in their lunch box, and preparing dinner. It’s also a chance for you to teach them about the nutritional values of different foods, and (for older children) how to read food labels.
Make a variety of healthy snacks available instead of empty calorie snacks. Keep plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grain snacks, and healthy beverages (water, milk, pure fruit juice) around and easily accessible so kids become used to reaching for healthy snacks instead of empty calorie snacks like soda, chips, or cookies.
Limit portion sizes. Don’t insist your child cleans the plate, and never use food as a reward or bribe.