I don’t know if the practices I have put into place at our house has had an impact on my Johnny’s eating habits or if I have simply given birth to a vacuum who will eat just about anything put in front of him then try to steal my food too.
There are however some fundamentals which I innately established thanks to both my nutrition knowledge and my parents in the way they approached eating when I was a child.
Now I have undertaken more research in this area I can combine these innate practices with what the experts say and develop some strategies to encourage healthy eating in children.
Below are my top 5 tips for developing taste preferences and healthy eating habits in children.
AVAILIBILTY- Always have healthy food choices for your little person on hand. When I think of healthy I don’t think of categorising it into “protein, carbs, fats, calcium, iron etc” I simply ask myself if it is unprocessed, low in added sugar or additives, close to how nature intended. If the fridge and cupboard are full with such foods then you can ask your little person what they would like and allow them to choose knowing there is no unhealthy alternatives for them to choose instead!
REPETITION- Children are innately weary of new food so repetition and recognition is key. For example Johnny used to not eat tomatoes but for weeks I’d just put a couple of slices on his plate every other day, at the same time I would sit with him and eat my food pointing out my tomato and how delicious it was. Then one day he ate it and now sometimes it will be the first thing he chooses off the plate! Currently I am taking on a mushroom challenge… no luck yet though!
VARIETY- The wider the variety of foods on offer the more open minded and explorative your child will become in accepting new foods. Also, importantly it will insure your child is getting all their vitamins and minerals essential to development. If a child is only offered Weetbix for breakfast, soon enough they will make the association of waking up and eating Weetbix and be very resistant to accepting an alternative. I suggest having 3 breakfast options on rotation ie Weetbix, French toast and porridge. (check out my blog on top breakfasts for toddlers for more ideas!)
Additionally keep a variety of fruit on offer, change up your veges at meal time and swap around your snack ideas each time you do the shopping.
One of my favourite things to do for snack time or lunch is what I call “A tasting platter” Where I lay out on a plate a selection of food and Johnny can have a look, feel and taste of everything in the order of his choice. For example I may put on some cheese, avocado, rice puffs, tomato, left over roast veges and/ or meat, dates, cashews, snow peas, carrot sticks, boiled egg etc. It’s quite interesting to watch what he chooses and in what order!
This is an example of my "Tasting Plate"
SETTING AN EXAMPLE AND MAKING MEAL TIME POSITIVE- “Monkey see and monkey do” As soon as possible we should be having our children join us at the dinner table for at least one but preferably more meals each day. We should model our behaviour on how we would like them to act… eating a variety of food, sitting with them (and them with us) until we have all finished, enjoying conversation and making meal time a positive experience. Another tip is to allow the child to do “fun stuff” like play or TV time before the meal so that they are not rushing to get down from the table after dinner and may enjoy more of their meal.
YOU OFFER THE MEAL, THE REST IS UP TO THEM- Hahahahhahaha this is sooooo much easier said than done!! And I have lost my cool more than once believe me so I can sympathise! However it is ultimately up to you, the parents, what is on offer at your house; you prepare the food and put it in front of your child. This becomes a lot easier when the child is eating the same food and with the family because then it’s not as frustrating to have them reject it.
It is then up to them what they eat off the plate and how much they eat. If you start forcing them to eat parts of the meal they don’t want through anger or bribery you will teach them a negative association to that food and you will be met with resistance every time you offer it. At our house Johnny can have his dinner, if he eats it all then I’ll offer him some yoghurt or similar (not as a reward but to insure he’s had enough to eat) but if there’s food left over when he pushes his plate aside then that’s it for the night. It is important for children to recognise when they’ve had enough and establish their own idea of what it is to be “full”
There you go I hope this helps! If you are already in a food war at home then start one point at a time. First things is to go shopping so you have the right things in your fridge!
If you are still struggling and need extra support contact me for a consultation or keep an eye out for future small group information nights.