Food is a big consideration in family life. As a parent, you already know it is your responsibility to provide nutritious food that will help your kids grow, develop and have plenty of energy. This is no easy task when you have a busy life to juggle, and a house of individuals with their own set of likes and dislikes.
In addition, you know that it is also you who must teach your kids the etiquette of meal times, and to ensure they learn healthy food habits. That’s a whole lot of responsibility!
According to nutrition advisors, the foundations for a lifetime of healthy eating are set during early childhood. This means it’s never too early to start nurturing those healthy habits.
Thankfully, there are many simple techniques and activities to get your kids on the right track.
Here are nine ways children can learn good eating habits from you, starting now.
1. Get your kids involved in cooking…
Usually, it’s your job to prepare healthy meals for your family, which means you have all the responsibility for ensuring the finished meal is balanced and nutritious. However, it’s never too early to start delegating some of the cooking to your kids (with your watchful eye on them, of course).
Much can be learned about healthy eating while preparing food; it’s the perfect opportunity to discuss what a balanced meal looks like, and to encourage your children to invent their own combinations of healthy food.
Even young children can chop, mix and weigh ingredients with assistance. These activities also help with their fine and gross motor skills, and counting skills, too. Cooking is a win all around.
2. …and shopping
Parents often dread the weekly shop, with many children finding it dull, too.
However, this is another great opportunity for exploring new foods and healthy eating. It’s a great time to discuss why some foods are for treats only, but others can be put in your basket in abundance.
Children love challenges, so perhaps they would enjoy choosing a fruit or vegetable that they have never tasted before. Or perhaps they could pick a healthy food from every color of the rainbow.
3. Make art out of food
Some parents have success encouraging children to eat more healthily by presenting foods in an inventive way. Renowned artist Arcimboldo created masterpieces out of fruits and vegetables. So, think of a meal plate as a blank canvas, and go wild. You could challenge the children to make their own food art, too.
4. Lead by example
You are your children’s number one role model, so whatever your eating habits, try to ensure your kids only see you eating healthily. If not, you risk them copying you. Avoid having one rule for them and another for yourself, as it is rarely fair.
With this in mind, it’s worth thinking about your own habits in general. What tweaks could you make to your own diet?
It’s not just what you eat, but how you eat it, too. Family mealtimes are the best opportunity to model proper eating etiquette to your children, so avoid lap and TV dinners as much as possible.
5. Teach your children to recognize when they are hungry or full
You probably have a well-established routine of snacks and mealtimes. However, it is also important to teach children about their hunger cues and take notice of their bodies.
Overeating and subsequent weight gain are a problem for some families. Appetites can vary from day-to-day, depending on things like growth spurts and activity levels. For this reason, it is important for children to learn to notice when they are hungrier than usual, and when they have had enough. It is also important that they are not distracted by TV or screens during meals so they can notice their body’s signals.
Questions such as, “Do you feel like your tummy’s full now?” or “Do you have room for a snack to help you have lots of energy?” will help focus children’s attention.
6. Have fun and play with food
Meal times are not the only times to learn about healthy eating. There are playtime opportunities, too.
Experts believe that messy play, which includes playing with food, is a vital part of early childhood development and the baby development process. It helps to encourage children to explore unfamiliar textures, which may make them more confident to try different foods at mealtimes. Some studies have shown that children who enjoy regular messy play are less fussy eaters.
7. Enjoy healthy eating games
If your kids have a role-play kitchen or shop amongst their toys, you know that your kids love to serve you lots of exciting concoctions. This gives you a great chance to teach a few healthy eating basics, like providing healthy options in their shop or café, or a balanced meal from their kitchen.
Plenty of healthy examples of play food are valuable toys to have as these items will become more familiar to children, which means they may be more likely to eat the real thing from their plate.
8. Pick out some clever apps…
Most children love to spend time on a tablet, so why not use their screen time wisely? There are plenty of mobile app options to help your children learn about healthy eating, from games about heroes and monsters that teach nutrition, to puzzles that encourage young learners to sort healthy foods.
9. …and stories
Finally, most families value reading and story time with their kids. The good news is that there are plenty of stories carrying positive eating messages; classics include “The Hungry Caterpillar” and “Green Eggs and Ham.” Visit your local bookstore or library and you will likely find a story about a superhero vegetable, or vegetarian dinosaurs, or veggies giving a character superhuman strength. Have fun choosing an inspiring story with your child.