We’ve all been told that eating healthy is vital, but let’s be honest: we don’t always follow these teachings so imagine how much more challenging it is convincing kids to eat their veggies! The first instinct is guilt for many parents when their child isn’t immediately inclined to eat their fruits and veggies but “fussy eaters” are the rule not the exception – it’s normal.
So can you possibly “sell” healthy food to the tough crowd that is toddlers? Absolutely! And doing this while they’re young will develop habits that they will carry well into their future.
Here are some ways to start building healthy eating habits for your children.
Start sooner rather than later
We can’t recall what we ate as babies, but starting with nutritious meals at an early age can help create healthy eating habits. Try introducing superfoods to your child’s diet from the minute they start consuming anything other than breastmilk or formula. Some examples are pureed fruits and vegetables.
Aim for “balanced” meals.
At mealtime, most of us like a range of flavours! Dish up a balanced meal for your child and make sure that they get enough protein, carbs, fibre, healthy fats, and other vitamins and minerals that their bodies need to be strong and grow. Here are a few ways you can create balanced meals for your little one:
- Presentation matters – make it pretty and colourful
- Incorporate at least 3 food groups – whole grains such as quinoa, cous cous and brown rice. Protein such as beans, eggs, fish and chicken.
- Remember to check what your child can and cannot have at a certain age before feeding it to them and if you are unsure, consult your doctor.
Introduce one new feed at a time
Today it can be peas in the mac ‘n cheese and maybe cauliflower mash instead of mashed potato the next. This way, these new foods become a part of the meals that they already know and love and not entirely new meals. Don’t give up after the first try. Even if they don’t try it or like it today, maybe tomorrow they learn about the colour red at school and all of a sudden baby loves everything red – a win for red pepper and tomatoes! Let them touch, smell and play with the food to familiarise themselves with the texture especially and hopefully they get curious enough to eat it like everything else they pick up around the house.
Encourage the consumption of healthy food but don’t bash them for enjoying the not-as-healthy food
Not everything we consume will be high in nutrients—and that’s fine!It is essential to not shame children for enjoying a variety of foods. When having the conversation about food, try to be mindful of the language you use. We don’t want to identify foods as “good” or “bad.” Consider discussing the food’s features like, “Listen to how loud my cucumber crunches.”
Make “meal time” synonymous with “family time”
Family dinners have several advantages! When children observe their family eating properly, it encourages good habits. Make an effort to establish a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere so that the family is excited for mealtime. An excellent method? Get your toddler to help you set the table for dinner. Involving them in the process makes them feel seen.
Pair the meal with healthy drink – for everyone
Opt for low sugar drinks. Water is always a good idea for keeping children hydrated. Milk is a great source of calcium and vitamin D and this is an easy winner because it tastes good too.
Allow children to have agency over their stomachs
This is critical in developing their somatic sense. It also teaches youngsters about eating boundaries. If your child does not finish their food at one meal, they will be hungry when the next meal time comes around. If they don’t seem to have an appetite over multiple days, consult your doctor.
Make an eating schedule
We’ve all been starving to the point where we eat the first edible thing we see! Having a schedule of when to eat each meal can help with not getting too hungry and making food choices you wouldn’t normally make. Include snacks in your daily meal plan, they help with keeping the hunger at bay for longer. Allow your child to nibble especially if they’re a grazer.
Educate children about healthy eating
The more they learn, the more likely they are to live a healthier lifestyle! Have them tag along on your grocery store run to the grocery store or a farmer’s market to show them the wide range of foods that exist. Let them help you with preparing food by fetching items for you and putting them in bowls before you put them into the pot. Gardening with your child may help educate them about good, nutritious food.