One of the biggest challenges for parents is getting their kids to eat healthy. This struggle often starts as soon as children begin to develop their little personalities as early toddlers!
However, it’s crucially important to overcome this challenge and start developing long-term healthy relationships with food from an early age.
Research at Newcastle University in England has found that many of the habits learnt during childhood, will continue throughout adolescence and into adulthood.
Children’s eating habits are significantly influenced by their surrounding environment. Parents, care givers and older siblings need to be mindful and model positive eating behaviours.
For example, you can’t successfully expect to tell your child to eat their veggies, if you voice your dislike for those precise foods and don’t eat them yourself.
If snacks are commonplace while you’re enjoying your favourite shows on TV, then it’s only time before a child will develop an association between watching TV and snacks. If soft drinks or juice are favoured over water in your household, then children will trust the dependency of artificially sweetened liquids, with no nutritional value, for their hydration instead of H20.
Children should be exposed to different healthy foods regularly from a young age, so they can develop a taste and acceptance of these foods. When around children, parents, older siblings or family members should be cautious to avoid pessimistic talk about healthy foods. This kind of interaction could lead to a development of negative associations with these foods, and that could last a lifetime.
Most kids will go through phases where they will or will not eat certain foods, however this does not mean they will never eat that food again. Continue to offer small portions of healthy options regularly and use encouraging statements such as:
- I wouldn’t eat something that doesn’t taste good and I wouldn’t expect you to. So perhaps if you give this food a try, you will realise that it can be enjoyable!
- This vegetable contains so many healthy vitamins and minerals that are going to help make you super strong, do you really want to miss out?
- Just like you wouldn’t judge a person by their appearance, you shouldn’t judge a vegetable by its appearance either. It has lots of yummy flavours and nutrients inside!
It is the parent or caregiver’s responsibility to be the provider of healthy food. It is important to let your child guide the portion size of these foods however, if you want them to continue to enjoy this healthy experience.
Research, by Birch at Pennsylvania State University, has found that positive exposure to healthy foods in childhood leads to continued regular consumption into adolescence. In turn, healthy habits in adolescents are linked with a more positive lifestyle in adulthood.
General healthy guidelines:
- Water should be the main fluid consumed, followed by plain milk. Juice or cordial should be limited to one cup per day.
- Snacks should have some nutritional value. Good snacks include fruit, vegetable sticks with hummus dip, yoghurt, crackers and cheese, cheese and tomato sandwich, popcorn.
- Avoid fried foods and limit takeaway foods to once a week only.
- Regularly include vegetables that you know your child will eat. Also, try to include a small portion of a new vegetable at dinner time once every 2-3 days.
- Include whole grains, grainy or wholemeal bread, rice, pasta, lentils or beans each day.
- Include fish at least twice per week (unless an allergy is present).
Finally, physical activity is another extremely important healthy habit you can help your child fall in love with!
By simply playing, dancing, bike riding, swimming with your child, or encouraging them to undertake these activities with friends or as part of a team, can benefit you both physically and mentally.