Food is a necessary and joyful part of life, a time to nourish bodies and relationships. But if your family meals don’t feel especially joyful, we’re here to help. Building healthy food habits is a lifelong process that starts with simple foods, realistic expectations, and plenty of autonomy for children.
Encourage Your Children to Eat Healthy Food
Developing good eating habits is a lifelong process that demands a healthy perspective on food, as well as wise practical choices and behaviours.
Getting children to consume a healthier diet can be tough, but the ten suggestions below should help make it a bit easier.
- Set the example. Children tend to mimic what we do. Make meals a pleasant time and serve a wide variety of healthy foods. Let your children see that you enjoy eating a varied diet, including fruits and vegetables.
- Make food a family affair. Children are more likely to eat meals to which they’ve contributed in some way. This might mean helping make the weekly meal plan, shopping at a farmer’s market, washing vegetables for a salad, or even preparing or cooking some of the meal, depending on your child’s age.
- Substitute healthier choices. Replace regular fries with sweet potatoes or try hummus, salsa, or chutney instead of high-fat sauces. Serve yogurt, fruit, or dark chocolate instead of rich desserts.
- Plant a garden. Home-grown vegetables almost always taste better, and the accomplishment children feel in growing them is highly motivating. Try easy-to-grow vegetables like radishes, carrots, peas, greens, or compact, determinate tomato varieties. Many of these plants can be grown in containers on a patio if space is limited.
- Try the ‘polite bite’ rule. Studies show that many children don’t like a food until they’ve tried it at least 20 times. So, keep serving vegetables and ask your child to take one “polite bite.” This practice respects a child’s preferences while giving them opportunity to try new foods. Still no luck? Many children dislike the texture of steamed vegetables, but they’ll try them raw with a dip, or roasted. Another option is to introduce veggies in a smoothie or sauce.
- Teach healthy attitudes about food. Try to approach food and meals as a joyful part of life; de-emphasise conversations that promote certain foods as healthy and other foods as unhealthy. Instead, serve a variety of delicious foods, including occasional sweets or desserts. Don’t use food as a weapon or bribe. Let your child serve themself, taking just the right portion.
- Bring back the family dinner. Today’s families are feeling the pinch of busy schedules and routines, but there’s something very special about eating a meal at home as a family. Try to have family dinner at least a couple nights a week, or family breakfast on the weekends. Turn off the television and other distractions, and really focus on the food and each other.
- Be thoughtful about snacks. There’s nothing wrong with an afternoon snack, but don’t let it sabotage dinner. Serve snacks at least two hours before a meal. Offer healthy snacks such as cheese and whole-grain crackers, sliced veggies, or a piece of fruit. Provide water instead of juice or milk between meals.
- Learn to love water. Liquids don’t offer the same sense of fullness that solid foods do, so it’s easy to consume a lot of calories through them. Skip juice, soda, and even milk for most meals and offer water instead.
- Respect food preferences. Some researchers theorise that picky eating is an evolutionary response going back to a time when overly adventurous young children could actually die from eating poisonous berries or plants. Take picky eating in stride, don’t make a big deal out of it, and don’t use food as a bribe or reward.