All parents know the challenge of trying to encourage their children to eat well. Even for the less fussy eaters, establishing the right habits early on can be hard. So we’ve put together this piece to offer some practical advice to parents on the importance of nutrition for young children and what can encourage positive eating behaviours.
The growing affluence of our society over the past several decades has led to many great advances in public health. We have access to better quality raw ingredients and have more ready access to quality proteins. This, combined with the constant advances in medical science has meant that we’re getting taller, stronger and living longer than previous generations.
Despite these advances, we are also at a public health crossroads and much of it comes down to nutrition. The ready availability and consumption of processed foods is making us less healthy. As fast as we advance the ways to cure our illnesses, lifestyle related health problems are growing.
For parents and others that care for children, this is a challenge that really matters. The eating and drinking behaviour that children develop today will influence their relationship with food and their health throughout life.
The first step we recommend in this journey is to transition from the bottle to water in a sip cup at around 12 months. The aim here is to start to separate the comfort that comes from sucking on the bottle and satisfying hunger. It also develops early understanding of the difference between hunger and thirst.
Positive relationships with food can come from the eating occasion. Sitting down to eat together in a social setting is very positive. Meals are a great time to get together and enjoy the moment with good food. Plus kids love learning. They are constantly soaking up information. So, using food as a means of expanding vocabulary is a great way of making food fun.
It’s great to start early with a wide variety of flavours and textures. This encourages interest in food. Some things won’t be appreciated the first time or several times. But with patience and repetition, the list of favourites will grow and grow.
Of course, nobody can ignore the pressure of being surrounded by processed foods that are high in sugars, salt and saturated fats. The tip is to be consistent in educating children about everyday foods that help us grow, versus occasional foods like sweets.
Grace Barnes of Good Grace Life is a nutritionist and is the consulting dietician for Orchard Early Learning Centre’s seasonal menus. We asked Grace for her tips on encouraging children to develop a healthy relationship with food.
“One of the best things we can all do to help kids to love good nutritious foods is to get them involved in cooking and food preparation at a young age. Cooking is right at the top of the digestive process. It increases appetite and stimulates saliva production and digestive enzymes. Plus it’s fun and kids just love being involved”.
Grace also recommends educating children on the benefits of eating seasonally. This increases their knowledge of where foods come from, how they grow and develops an understanding of freshness.
“Good nutrition is about striking the right balance. Balance between carbohydrates, proteins and fats. For most of us, including children, this means a focus on limiting the amount of processed sugar and fat in our diets, while consuming more fresh fruit and vegetables”.
According to the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, there are four key steps to encourage children to develop a healthy relationship with food.
- Choices, not rules
It’s much more fun to be given a choice to try different flavours and choose what you like, than being told what to do. It’s empowering and positive, even for the youngest child.
- Expose children to the diversity of food
The range of colours, flavours and textures of fresh foods is vast. Plus as children mature we can help them to appreciate the range of salty, sweet, spicy and sour tastes that come from different cuisines. The fun is in the experimentation, knowing that they don’t have to like everything.
- Be a role model
Food, like many parts of life is modelled by parents. Your own relationship with healthy eating plays a big role in the development of your child’s eating behaviour.
- Understanding the relationship between food and nutrition
Helping children understand what makes food healthy or unhealthy is a powerful thing to learn. Try taking your child to the farmer’s market or talk about food types in the supermarket. As with all the most effective child education, it is about participating in discovery together with the child as an equal.
When it comes to child care services, all of the same principles apply. When selecting a child care provider, you may consider these elements as a way of helping your child to develop a healthy relationship with food.
- Is the food prepared fresh on site?
- What is the dietary basis of the menu?
- What is the variety of foods that the child will experience?
- What are the meal time routines and how adaptable is the centre to different child and family routines?
- How do the educators and carers encourage healthy eating?
- A healthy balanced diet, along with exercise, are at the centre of a child’s growth and physical health.
- Establishing a positive relationship with food early in a child’s life can have a profound impact on a child’s development and lifetime health.
- Parents, educators and carers have an import role to play.
About Orchard Early Learning Centre
We exist to prepare children for a life of learning and wellbeing. There is nothing more important for your child than being safe, cared for and nurtured. And there is no better way for a child to prepare for life ahead, than by developing the ability to learn. Read more…