Children learn and model healthy eating habits from parents early in life.
Here are some examples on how you can instill healthy eating habits into your family's life:
- Establish a routine for meals and snacks - try to feed your children at times when they are alert, and not too tired to eat or cooperate.
- Use a variety of foods from the four food groups - remember that children, like adults, have their own likes and dislikes, which may change over time. If your child will not eat certain foods (such as yellow vegetables) try to "hide them" in a soup or casserole.
- Involve your children in the food preparation. For example, they can help to set the table, or pour and mix ingredients - they will feel so proud of their participation, that they will be more likely to eat what they have helped to prepare.
- Serve new foods alongside familiar foods - this encourages your children to enjoy eating a variety of foods and establish good manners.
- Create a pleasant environment for your children at mealtimes. Make sure they are comfortable (for example, young children will usually need a booster seat).
- Set reasonable expectations, such as a realistic sense of how long your children can sit at one time, or the amount of food that they can eat during a meal or snack time.
- Try not to show anxiety about what foods your child is or is not eating
- Children learn quickly that food can be used as a weapon for getting their way
- Don't forget that children's appetites vary - expect the appetite of your two-year old to be reduced, since he/she is now growing at a slower rate than before, and is much more interested in exploring the surroundings instead of sitting in one place. Children should eat to satisfy their hunger, not to gain anyone's approval
- Try to sit and eat as a family. This establishes mealtimes as pleasant social occasions
- Offer your child the same food that everyone else at the table is eating, as long as it is age-appropriate
- Present food in a form your children can cope with at their level of skill and independence - praise your children for what they achieve. Using child-sized, unbreakable utensils, dishes and cups will help encourage your children to develop the skills they need to learn to feed themself
- Understand that children need practice - using a spoon, fork and cup with control and confidence takes years of practice
- Remember that children tend to be messy - they may eat with their fingers and hands, spill things and can be easily distracted
- Limit the number of choices at a meal - too many choices can be overwhelming. Foods that are rejected by your child should be re-introduced at a later time
- Involve your child in making decisions about meals - so that their likes are reflected in the menu
- Buy or make a place mat for your child's place at the table