Teaching kids healthy eating from the start
Eating habits developed in childhood continue into adolescence and adulthood, so the more healthy foods that are offered to children the better.
When children start to eat (from around six months old), it can be helpful to remember that this is their first ever experience with food. Everything about it is new and exciting – the texture, appearance, smell and taste. The flavours of a food (no matter how bland it may seem to you) are amazing to them, so adding things like sugar, honey or salt is unnecessary and can lead to the development of unhealthy food preferences and tooth decay.
For toddlers and young children, if milk is offered too much or too often it can displace other healthy foods, meaning the child fills up on milk and doesn’t enjoy a variety of other foods. Limiting milk to no more than 500ml in 24 hours is important to ensure your child doesn’t miss out on key vitamins and minerals found in other foods. From age one, water should be the main drink for children and sugary drinks like juice and cordial limited.
Continue to offer a wide variety of foods to children at every age, and remember a child may refuse a food 10 or more times before accepting it. Keeping the meal environment relaxed can make a huge difference to your child’s relationship with food. Kids are messy, and accepting this as part of meal time can reduce the stress levels for all, and result in your child growing confidence to try new foods. Try not to give ‘treat’ food such as dessert as rewards. By giving dessert as a reward for eating dinner for example, your child may believe that sweet foods are superior to healthier foods, and can create undesirable emotional connections to them.
For school aged children and teenagers, healthy foods and snacks continue to be critically important for their physical and mental growth and development. Having healthy food options in the fridge and pantry is key, and the best thing you can do to encourage healthy eating is by eating healthy yourself. Get kids involved in food preparation and if possible, grow some food in the garden. Younger children can help make meals and set the table, and older children might enjoy planning a menu, shopping for the ingredients and preparing a meal for the family. All of these activities result in your child having a better understanding of healthy eating and set the foundations for healthy adults.
If you are concerned about your child’s eating habits or nutrition, speak to your GP, maternal child health nurse or dietitian.
Prepared by Kara Vogt – Accredited Practicing Dietitian