Simple strategies to help children develop healthy eating habits
Don’t give up! Persistence is the key to supporting our children to develop healthy eating habits throughout their life. Feeding young children a variety of healthy foods and enjoying meals with your children are essential to developing healthy eating habits.
Developing healthy eating habits begins in pregnancy when the flavours eaten by the mother reach the child in utero. So if you eat broccoli when you’re pregnant then your child will be exposed to the flavour of broccoli and will be more likely to accept and eat broccoli when they are older. Food flavours also pass through breastmilk so what you eat when breastfeeding can influence your child’s tastes as they grow.
But don’t lose heart if your food choice was not ideal during pregnancy and breastfeeding. I had such terrible morning sickness that the only thing that helped me was eating a croissant each morning for the first 14 weeks! Morning sickness, fatigue and stress-management can often result in unhealthy food choice but simple strategies can be useful to promote healthy food choice in your young children.
Firstly, repeated exposure of healthy foods (think fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains and healthy fats) promotes healthy food habits as long as you persist. That means giving your child healthy foods over and over, even if they reject the foods or pull a face. It can mean wasted food but persisting with repeated exposure of healthy foods is highly effective.
Tip: Try giving your child one new vegetable in different forms over the week such as raw vegies sticks with dip, stir-fried vegetables, small pieces in a casserole, curry or pasta sauce.
The second strategy for developing healthy eating habits is to sit down with your child and enjoy food together. Children learn through watching and by eating healthy food during family meals they learn that food is safe and can be enjoyed. Getting older siblings on board can be effective too because children often look up to their older brothers and sisters and want to do what they do.
Tip: Get your child involved in mealtimes by letting them help to make meals, set the table, and choose plates and cups.
Interestingly, other strategies like rewarding the intake of healthy foods has been found to be useful in the short term but evidence suggests it can interfere with the power of repeated exposure to healthy foods. So the message is to start with simple steps introducing foods slowly and enjoying a variety of foods together.
Obesity Reviews, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1111/obr.12658/full