Children are notoriously picky eaters, but children’s nutrition doesn’t need to be frustrating. If you are constantly battling your toddler over what they eat, or are tired of getting your little one to try new foods, then there are ways in which you can get your children to eat healthily. Most children do get a variety of nutrition within their diet, even if they do have dietary preferences, but it is always best to try and encourage your children to eat healthily if you can.
Most parents worry about what their children eat, but there are some things to be learnt along the way. If your children are relatively young, then their food preferences will develop and mature over time, but until then, here are 6 ways you can get your children to eat healthily.
Respect Your Child’s Appetite
If it comes to mealtimes and your child says they aren’t hungry, or get full quickly, then avoid forcing them to eat more. Likewise, avoid bribing or forcing your child to eat and try certain foods, as this will only put them off and cause food aversions. This could cause your child to associate mealtimes with frustration and anxiety, or become less sensitive to noticing their own hunger and fullness clues.
In order to avoid impacting on your child’s natural appetite, serve them smaller portions and give them the opportunity to ask for more on their own accord. Children are clever and won’t go hungry, so if they are hungry they will eat and if they are not, they won’t.
Don’t Become An Order Cook
All parents tend to be guilty of this, but it soon becomes a bad habit which is hard to get out of. If you find yourself cooking multiple meals each night to cater to everyone’s needs, then try to stop this as soon as possible. Not only is it exhausting for you, but you’ll likely be influencing your children’s appetite and dietary choices and cause even worse picky eating.
Prepare one meal for everyone and serve it at the table, in a style in which you can allow people to get their own portions. Children tend to mimic their parents and older peers’ behaviour, so if they see you and their older siblings eating and trying foods they haven’t had before, they will be more likely to try different things.
Get Them Involved
A great way to get your child interested in food and what they’re eating is to get them involved in the different processes involved. When you do the food shopping, ask them to pick different foods that they like the look of, such as different coloured and shaped fruits and vegetables. At home, get them to help with the preparation and cooking of meals. From chopping to washing, or stirring to plating up, there are many ways in which your child can help get involved with the different stages of eating. When they are involved, they’re more likely to try the things they have made or chose.
Introduce New Foods Slowly
Children often tend to be naturally food-phobic, especially when they don’t like the taste first time round. If your children are old enough, explain to them that sometimes it takes more than one taste to get used to different foods and that they won’t like everything straight away. If your child is at weaning age, then introducing new foods is important, but it’s best to do so slowly so that they don’t become averse to certain foods.
If your following baby-led weaning, then it’s best to be prepared beforehand and have coverall bibs, bamboo plates and baby cutlery to hand to help with the process. With weaning, babies tend to have a naturally sweeter preference, so will like fruits and sweeter vegetables such as sweet potato and carrots. Try not to give them too much of these foods at once and mix in different types of vegetables to get them used to different tastes and textures. Once they’ve gotten used to fruits and vegetables, start to add in different food groups.
If your children are surrounded by distractions when they are eating meals, then it is less likely that they will pay attention to what they are eating, which is a bad habit to develop. After a stressful or busy day, it can be all too easy to let your children eat in front of the TV or a tablet to get some peace and quiet and to ensure your children eat, but it can cause children to become disassociated with their foods.
If you can, try to ensure mealtimes are done at the table so that your child pays more attention to their food and learn about their natural food receptors, such as when they’re hungry and full. As well as this, they will learn good table manners and conversation skills as they pick up on the conversations from around the table. It also helps with their concentration skills, as they learn to focus on their meal and the conversation going on around them.
Don’t Offer Desserts As A Reward
By making bribes with and offering dessert, this can only increase your child’s desire for sweets and desserts. It also gives the impression that dessert is the more desirable food. Select one or two nights a week where you give dessert after meal times and skip it for the rest of the week. Alternatively, you could redefine dessert as being something such as fruit, yogurt or other healthy food choices. Remember, you and not your children are in charge of the food that comes into the house, so by having less junk food in the house, your child is more likely to make healthier choices.
If your child is showing signs of picky eating, then this is completely normal as their taste buds develop and their food interests change as they get older. If this shows no signs of changing or developing, then this could show signs of food aversions. If you’re concerned about your child’s picky eating or unhealthy food choices, then it’s best to get in touch with your doctor.
It’s important to encourage your child to make healthy food choices as and when they can, but remember that they are still only young and unhealthy junk foods are designed to be more appealing, so they will naturally want these. It’s important to allow your child to have these foods every now and then.