You may be concerned that you child does not eat enough or will not try healthy choices, but what are the best ways to help them on the road to healthy eating?
Start them young – a child should be introduced to solid foods from as young as 6 months. The sooner they start this journey, the more likely they are to expand their menu. Give them blended food to fill them up as well, but give finger foods to nibble on during meal times so that they start to feed themselves and learn the process of chewing. Baby biscuits and bread sticks are a great start as they will soften down and lessen the risk of choking. Leave cucumber and carrot sticks until they have understood the process of biting and chewing well before swallowing.
Be a role model – letting your child see you eat healthily and being physically active is a great way to send the message, and children love to copy, especially someone that is important to them. You cannot expect your child to eat vegetables when you are eating a packet of chips! Do not use orders, but keep the idea of eating a fun and positive one.
Eat together as a family – although we all lead busy lives, having a time set each day to eat together encourages healthy eating habits. Your child can see how to sit properly at the table, how to use utensils correctly, and what are the correct manners and eating etiquette that we expect. It also stops the habit of chasing a toddler all over the place with a spoon and allows them to understand that eating time is a time to sit at a table and eat. Eating times can be a social event when the family sit and talk quietly about their day or what they are planning to do the following day. This also allows a chance to encourage eating slowly, chewing well, and swallowing before choosing to talk. This process allows time for others to talk and also helps digestion. Also the conversation should not be about the amount of food that they are eating but general talk to keep the child busy but also eating.
Ban outside distractions – meals should be for eating and socializing. Do not allow iPads, telephones or television to be around at these times as they distract from the food and may cause overeating. Snacking in front of the television is the easiest way to put on weight! Set a time – meals should have a time set so that the whole day is not spent on feeding. Half an hour should be long enough for everyone to eat well and enjoy the meal. Extending time will only make the mealtime become a challenge.
Homemade over prepared/convenience foods – at least you know what is in the food that you prepare yourself. Also it will be freshly made and you can even involve your child in the preparation to help them get excited about the food that they will eat. Snacks should be cut up fruits and vegetables that are readily available and easy to eat.
Offer a variety – allow your child the opportunity to try new foods and try not to be influenced by your own tastes and preferences as they may like something that you do not!
Keep portion sizes small – giving too much can be overwhelming and make your child feel uncomfortable. Remember it is better to offer more as a second helping than force them to finish the plate, this just encourages over eating or, even worse, can create the opposite of what you intend as they will associate food with being unhappy or being forced, and may rebel against food altogether. A child will not naturally starve themselves, but most will automatically understand the feeling of being full or hungry and be able to eat the amount of food that they need. Remember that a portion for an adult will be more than a child. A portion of meat should be the same size as the person’s palm, whatever the age.
Have a variety – Having a small variety of foods available, and allowing your child to pick what they would like to eat from the table, gives them the control and helps them to feel they are in charge of the meal. However, do not fall into the mistake of becoming a short order cook! What is on the table is the meal and the child should not be asking for other foods from the fridge or to be cooked. Help them to understand that what is available is the foods to be eaten, however you could suggest that they make a request for the next meal.
Water should be readily available – always have fresh water available to drink at any time and keep away from soda. Juice is fine, but try to limit to around 4 ounces per day to avoid excess sugar intake. Avoid sugar filled flavored milk and juices and give fresh plain milk or natural juices with no sugar added.
Iron is important – children that drink a lot of milk will be filling up but not necessarily getting the nutrients that they need. Iron is low in milk and what it does have is not easily absorbed. Make sure there is iron in your child’s diet.
Embrace the mess – make the area that your child is eating a mess capable zone so that they can fully enjoy the process of learning to control utensils and enjoy eating. Give finger foods that they enjoy to allow your child to eat by themselves, rather than rely on someone feeding them.
Try to two bite rule – when a new food is introduced suggest they take at least two bites to take the taste of the food. If they do not want any more do not push it. It has been found that a child may take up to 10 or more times of exposure to a food before they even try it, and then another 10 or more before tries of a food before they decide if they like it or not. Do not offer a new food every day but if it is rejected, leave it and try again in a week or so. Also try adding new foods when your child is hungry, let them help prepare it, or offer it along with other favorite foods to give them a choice.
Do not use desert as a bribe – Insisting on finishing the plate to get a reward may not help, as there is no specific amount that will give the child a ticket for desert. However, do try to get a reasonable effort of eating before moving on. Also giving desert as a reward for eating vegetables gives the impression that vegetables are not desirable. Instead let your child choose the vegetable, or dress it up to look more inviting like spiral cucumbers or star carrots.
Food should not be withheld – taking away food as a punishment (no dinner until you have done your homework) will make the child worry about their next meal and may make them over eat at other times. Meals should be a routine so that the child knows that food is available, that way they will eat the right amount at each meal.
Do not forbid sweets or treats – setting a food as ‘not allowed’ or ‘forbidden’ may have the opposite effect as they will begin to crave it and may even eat it secretly. Instead allow a smaller portion of the sweet to stop the craving and offer other healthier choice as well like frozen yoghurt.
Beware of low-fat foods – these are often low in fat but may have added sugars or salt to make them taste better. Also full fat foods are denser and will keep your child fuller for longer, so they will not look for other snacks between meals.
Moods can be affected – some foods can have an effect on the mood and should be avoided; like fried foods, sugary and refined pastries, and syrup drinks. Some children can be affected by sugary foods with a ‘sugar high’ followed by a ‘sugar slump’ so these are better left aside if possible.
Encourage exercise – keeping your child moving and doing sports can increase appetite, also they will be burning off those extra calories and improving circulation and digestion.
When eating out – try to avoid fries and take packed carrots, grapes or other fruits. Watch portion size by using the kids menu or sharing a meal. Ask to change the soda for a juice. Choose wiser side dishes like a baked potato, corn and salads over fries, onion rings and biscuits.
Parent/child friendly junk food supplements:
|French fries||“Baked fries” grilled in the oven and salted lightly|
|Ice cream||Yogurt; sorbet; fresh fruit smoothies|
|Fried chicken||Baked or grilled chicken|
|Doughnuts or pastries||Bagels; English muffins; home baked goods with less sugar|
|Chocolate-chip cookies||Graham crackers, fig bars, vanilla wafers, fruit and caramel dip|
|Potato chips||Baked vegetable chips or, for older children, nuts|