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5 ways to promote healthy eating habits in kids

The eating habits children develop at a young age will have an impact on their health and wellbeing well into the future.

The struggle to get kids to eat their greens and steer clear of sugary treats is real for most parents. Those with fussy eaters and strong-willed children know all too well the frustrations surrounding healthy eating and meal times.

Encouraging healthy eating habits may seem like an overwhelming task, but by implementing these tips into your daily routine, you’re setting a foundation for your child to become a healthy, happy and educated adult.

1. Get your kids involved

One of the best ways to promote healthy eating habits in kids is to get them involved in the preparation and cooking of food. Take your children shopping and ask them to pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try. Encourage them to find the items on your shopping list and unpack the shopping together when you get home.

Rather than focus on sneaking vegetables into dishes, prepare the meal together with your child. Encourage them to choose a recipe or cook deconstructed meals where everyone can make their own. This exposes them to a variety of foods, builds trust and helps develop valuable cooking skills.

2. Be a great role model

As a parent, you are your child’s greatest role model. Children learn not only by what parents are telling them but also by watching them. Just as you can model self-respect, patience, kindness and happiness, you can also model healthy eating behaviour.

Telling your child they can’t have soft drink only to turn around and guzzle a glass of Coke is sending mixed messages. Likewise, check in with the language you use around food. Saying “this food will make you fat” or “you need to eat more because you’re too thin” can have long term consequences on your child’s eating behaviour.

3.     Remove the pressure

When we’re stressed or anxious, our body produces adrenaline in response to the perceived threat. Our appetite is suppressed and the digestion process paused. Not only are we less inclined to tuck into a nutritious meal, but the nutrients we consume aren’t going to be absorbed optimally.

Remove the pressure around eating. Don’t stress if your child hasn’t polished off their plate or eaten all their greens. Make meal times an enjoyable part of your family’s day and foster positive conversation. Research shows regular family meals can not only improve children’s nutrition and eating habits, but also their relationships and social behaviour.

4.     Encourage healthy snacking

For most families, it’s snacking that can derail their healthy eating habits. Most pre-packaged snacks are high in calories and nutrient-poor, yet they are so easy to reach for when hunger strikes. And busy children often fill up on snacks in preference over a big meal at set times.

Consider how many snacks you give your children throughout the day, and when you’re offering them. Avoid repetitive snacking and set times, preferably at least one hour before a main meal. If your child claims to be hungry outside of these times teach them to listen to their body. Are they really hungry or are they just thirsty? Are they bored or tired?

Serve healthy, wholefood snacks such as veggie sticks with hummus, fruit, hard boiled eggs or plain yoghurt. Make a batch of muesli bars, balls or mini muffins for a healthy alternative to packaged snacks. Aim for quality protein in each snack to help improve satiety and give them ample energy.

5.     Expose your child to a variety of foods

Nutritionally speaking, a healthy diet is one that consists of a variety of whole foods. Unfortunately, many children have a relatively limited diet, especially fussy eaters. To encourage greater variety in your child’s diet, you need to expose them to a range of nutritious foods.

It’s best to do so in small amounts in the company of their favourite foods. If your child happily eats carrots and potatoes, for example, introduce a small serve of mushrooms alongside these. Don’t be disheartened if they don’t eat it the first time. Continual exposure to foreign foods will reduce the level of fear and enhance their interest long term.

 

Sarah Appleford is a bachelor-qualified nutritionist, mother, passionate foodie and founder of Nutrition For Kids. Through 1:1 consultations and workshops, Sarah’s mission is to inspire children to lead healthy, happy lives. She wants to help remove the confusion and equip parents with the tools and knowledge to nourish their kids with a whole food diet.

Find inspiration on the Nutrition For Kids’ website and follow on Sarah on Instagram or Facebook.


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