One of the most challenging aspects of having a toddler is raising them to be healthy eaters. One minute they like something, the next minute they hate it, they refuse to eat all day and then gleefully throw their dinner onto the floor, no wonder so many parents dread meal times!
Raising kids to be healthy eaters can be incredibly frustrating and seem like a constant uphill battle, but teaching your children about healthy eating and bestowing them with a love of good, wholesome foods is one of the best things you can do as a parent. Not only does it support their rapidly growing bodies and developing minds, it also lays the foundation for a lifetime of good health.
Here are some simple tips to help you raise a veggie loving, variety embracing, healthy child.
1. The power of repeat exposure
Children are naturally hesitant to try new things – this has even been hypothesised to be a survival instinct which stops them from going out and snacking on poisonous berries. Unfortunately these days, rather than saving children’s lives, this instinct mainly serves to frustrate and stress out parents. But getting over this ‘fear of newness’ is just a matter of time and repeated exposure. So even if your child hates a certain food the first, second and even third time, persevere. Continue to place the food on their plate without fuss and eventually they might come around to it. Of course, there are likely to be some foods which they continue to detest, but with persistence you can gradually narrow down the list.
2. Set an example
There’s another strong instinct which children have, and that’s their overwhelming desire to be just like their parents. If kids see you eating healthy food and enjoying it, there’s a very good chance that they will follow suit. It might not happen immediately, but leading by example will pay off big time in the long run.
3. Parents provide, kids decide
The ‘division of responsibility’ encourages parents to take charge of the when, where and what their child eats and children to decide whether and how much they eat, “parents provide, kids decide”. This fosters a child’s ability to regulate their appetite and food intake, builds trust and allows kids to accept new foods at their own pace.
4. Try to avoid bargaining
Closely linked with point no.3, bribing kids with dessert or begging them to eat ‘just one more mouthful of broccoli’ discourages them from trusting their own ability to regulate what, when and how much they eat and practice their inbuilt skill of ‘intuitive eating’.
5. Eat as a family
Research has shown that eating together as a family on a regular basis has some amazingly positive side effects: family bonds are stronger, children are better adjusted, family members eat more nutritious meals and are less likely to be overweight. It might not be possible every day, but do it when you can.
6. Stop the sneaking around
It can be very tempting to sneak vegetables into things like pasta sauces to ensure that your kids are getting the nutrients they need without having to wrestle with them at the dinner table. But the risk is that at some point they will realise that there’s carrot in their bolognaise sauce and become untrusting of food and your role in providing it. It also again reinforces a message that vegetables are undesirable, the last thing we want! By all means add vegetables into your cooking but let kids see that you’re doing it and discover the multitude of different and delicious foods vegetables can be added to and ways they can be eaten.
The bottom line to raise healthy eaters:
In general, children do best when exposed to a variety of foods with absolutely no pressure to eat. Try to focus less on the ‘what’ of feeding, and more on the ‘how’, on pleasure rather than nutrition.