8 Simple Ways to Raise Happy Healthy Eaters

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  • Post last modified:January 30, 2023
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Part of our job as parents is to teach our children how to take care of themselves and raising them to be healthy eaters is an essential part of that. Food is a necessity for life. It nourishes our bodies and is an integral part of our growth and development. Making the right choices for our children when they are young and teaching them healthy habits is the best way to ensure they thrive. Here are eight simple ways to raise a happy healthy eater for life.

1. Allow Children to be Involved

Getting children involved in grocery shopping and meal preparation is a great way to teach them a healthy lifestyle. This will look different depending on the age of the child but even infants can be included in this process.

Start with planning your meals and making your grocery list. With toddlers and older children especially, you can ask them what they would like to eat. What foods would they like to buy? To help with this process you can have images of healthy foods: fruit, vegetables, whole grains and proteins. You can even take pictures of the meals you regularly eat to help children pick what they would like. For infants you can talk to them while you are planning your meals and putting together your grocery list. ‘What should we eat?’, ‘Lets get some banana’s’, you can use flash cards with your infant as well. We use these flash cards from Ontario Dietitians in Public Health

Next step is grocery shopping. Bring your child with you to the store. Read off the items on your list and look for them together. Point out different foods they haven’t tried before, ‘doesn’t that look interesting’, ‘maybe we should try it sometime’. Let your child help put things into your shopping basket, infants and toddlers learn a lot about their world through sensory exploration. Remember to let them help unpack the groceries when you get home too.

Finally, preparing your food and cooking together is one of the most important ways to get your child involved. This will teach them lifelong skills about food safety, preparation, cooking and eating.

healthy eaters

There are many ways children can help prepare food. The age of your child will determine what they will be able to assist with. You know your child best and whether or not they are ready to help. Remember to also teach them how to clean up a spill; there will be many early on. Some examples of ways children can help in the kitchen are:

  • washing: fruit and vegetables
  • pouring: water or milk
  • scooping: flour or other ingredients
  • spreading: butters or jam
  • mashing: cooked potatoes, bananas
  • stirring: ingredients for baking
  • cracking eggs
  • peeling: vegetables, hard-boiled eggs
  • cutting: bananas, cucumber, other soft foods
  • measuring: ingredients
  • reading recipes
  • collecting ingredients
  • setting the table
  • serving themselves
  • washing dishes

The more a child practices a certain skill the more independent they will become. If you start at a young age they will soon be able to do many of these tasks with little to no assistance.

Children love to help, involving them will also let them feel confident and responsible which will help build their independence. Plus children are more likely to eat a meal if it is something they have helped to prepare.

2. Give Children Healthy Choices

One of the best ways to encourage healthy eating is to give them healthy choices. We often have such busy schedules it can be so easy to order in food or give them packaged snacks to eat. Planning out your meals and snacks can help you prepare for your week.

Give yourself some time in the evenings or on weekends to prepare healthier snacks such as carrot sticks, & cucumber slices. Have cheese cut up and ready to go in a container, keep crackers on hand or some dried fruit. It is okay to give them store bought snacks once in a while just make sure you are reading the labels in order to help you choose healthier options and limit how often they are getting them.

It is good to encourage children to try new foods but equally important to make sure there is always something you know they will eat. Having multiple vegetable dishes for dinner can help, something new for them to try and perhaps their favourite.

Smoothies are a great way to to get in some extra vegetables. Whenever we make a smoothie we always put spinach in it so that now my daughter automatically grabs the spinach from the fridge whenever we make one.

Cutting up vegetables into small pieces and adding them to dishes can also help children eat their vegetables more regularly. Soups, especially blended soups, are another great way to sneak in some vegetables if you are having trouble getting your child to consume enough vegetable servings a day.

When children are given choices, especially ones they helped pick or prepare, they are more likely to eat one of them.

Instead of saying ‘eat your vegetables’ try ask which vegetable your child would like, ‘Do you want broccoli or carrots today?’, this give them some control over what they are eating. Children, in particular toddlers, just want to have some control over themselves and make their own choices. Children feel more in control when given a choice. As parents we control which choices to give them. If they don’t like something, take break from it and try something else, then reintroduce it in a few weeks time.

3. Don’t Use Food as a Reward.

Using food as a reward or punishment will not contribute to children having a positive healthy relationship with food. It can interfere with their ability to self-regulate their eating, cause overeating, as well as send mixed messages about healthy and unhealthy foods.

For instance giving treats for good behaviour can cause children to develop eating patterns where they associate unhealthy foods with good behaviour or even certain moods.

Equally important to remember is that children’s appetites can vary from day to day. Getting them to finish all the food on their plate before they get dessert can cause them to ignore their hunger cues such as when they have had enough to eat. This leads to overeating in order to get to the dessert.

Choose healthier options for dessert such as fruit and serve it with your dinner if you feel your child isn’t eating their main meal in order to wait for dessert.

Instead of using food as a reward think of other ways to reinforce good behaviour. Some examples are praise, reward chart, stickers, extra playtime, a special activity or a fun trip.

4. Eat Together as a Family.

Eating together as a family not only contributes to healthy eating habits but will also support a child’s social and emotional development. We spend so much of our time eating that it is one of the best opportunities for teaching our children.

Make one meal for the whole family. There is no need to make a separate meal for your child as they start to get older, unless of course they are only just being introduced to foods. There may be certain foods your child is not old enough for yet, just make sure you have an alternative for them.

One of our favourite family meals is Delicious Lentil Dhal from the book Sprout Right Family Food by Lianne Phillipson. This recipe book is our go to for healthy recipes since we started introducing food. It contains recipes for making baby food, toddler food, and family meals. If your child sees you eating vegetables or trying new foods they will be more likely to do the same.

5. Encourage Them to Try New Foods.

Give children opportunities to try new foods but don’t force it. It is so easy to fall into a routine of offering the same thing you know they will eat but children need to eat a variety of foods in order to get proper nutrition.

Let your child explore their food to become familiar with it. New foods can be scary for children. Infants and toddlers learn about the world through sensory exploration. When given new foods that they are unfamiliar with, children may be hesitant to try them because of how they look. If they do try the food sometimes the texture can be unpleasant for them, not just the taste, which can cause them to spit it out. For this reason provide children the opportunity to explore their food first. Once they become more familiar with it, they are more likely to give it a try.

Furthermore let them see you try the new foods as well in order to encourage them to give it a try. When you offer some to them they may say ‘no’ or they may only take a bit and then spit it out. That is okay, in that case try again in a few weeks. Don’t give up on trying new foods, Children’s palates change regularly and a food they may have liked one week, they won’t like the next.

6. Model the Habits and Manners You Want Your Child to Have.

Children learn by watching us. With this in mind it is important you are aware of your own habits, manners and behaviour. Children look to us to learn how to behave therefore it is essential that we model the habits and manners we want to teach our children. While it is important to model appropriate behaviour at all times, family meals in particular provide an excellent opportunity to be a positive role model.

Your children are observing you at the table, being a positive role model for them is the best way to teach them healthy eating habits and routines, introduce them to cultural/traditional foods, expose them to language and teach life-skills.

7. Start Early

Teaching children healthy eating habits can begin as early as infancy. When you start introducing solids to your child, this is the ideal time to begin. The habits they learn in infancy can last a lifetime and can help your child build a long lasting healthy relationship with food. If your child is already eating solid foods, don’t worry, it is never too late to start introducing healthy habits.

8. Trust Your Child.

While you may know your child best, they know they own bodies best. Trust your child to know their own hunger cues. If they are hungry they will eat. If they become distracted or have finished their plate you can always ask if they are still hungry or if they are done. Instead of saying ‘you can play when you have finished the food on your plate’ try saying ‘you can play when you are done eating’.

As stated earlier children’s appetites can change day to day. One day they may have three servings of something, the next they may not even finish one. Try to avoid lots of snacking throughout the day. Make a schedule of three meals and two snacks to help children get into a routine and recognize their hunger cues better.

Healthy eating is as essential to your child’s growth and development as any other area if not more so. It can be hard at times to maintain healthy eating habits especially with busy schedules or when children start going to birthday parties and other events where you are not in control of the food being served. Try to navigate these hurdles without getting overwhelmed. Healthy eating does not need to happen all the time just most of the time. Altogether if we use these eight ideas to instill healthy habits in our children early then they will build a healthy relationship with food at a young age and will continue to make healthy choices as they grow.

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