Tips for encouraging healthy eating in children

Cara Cunningham, MINDI, Community Dietitian

We all strive to have children who like a wide variety of healthy foods, but the annoying reality is that most children love the ‘junk’ type food. It can be a struggle to get them to try something new or anything ‘healthy’!

Meal times see parents turning into nags, with children more enduring than enjoying the food on offer, and so the daily battle continues. How can we break this cycle early on? Here are a few tips that might help.

Engagement: Get your children involved. Give them a €1 and get them to spend it choosing a fruit or vegetable they wish to try that week. You can talk around how different choices can be cooked or presented for a meal or snack. Have them help you with the preparation; they can then do the PR with the rest of the family!

Borrow a foodie friend: If you can find one of their friends who eat everything, ask them over for a play date then try out a new food. Hopefully the peer pressure will work to your advantage.

Play with your food: This is especially good for younger children, as it can stimulate their interest in different foods. Engage all their senses. Listen to the carrot crunch, smell that mandarin, see the inside of a kiwi, and see how big your teeth marks will be in the apple! Soon they will be eating away without the need to force or bribe them!

Go for the Oscar: Parents are the first and best role model in any child’s life, if they do not see you eating and enjoying your fruit and veg, how do you ever expect them to do the same? As they say in Hollywood, you might have to ‘fake it to make it’! No foodstuff will kill you (unless you are actually allergic ), so start eating and tasting your food with enjoyment, and do not forget to describe how good it tastes. Remember, children might not always eat certain food, but they are always watching to see if you do.

It can be a battle, but do not let it be a battleground. Constant stress and nagging at meal times is counterproductive and will do no good for anyone. Its time to take a deep breath get your children involved in the buying and preparing of meals and snacks. Offer them a healthy choice at meal time and be a good role model by eating healthy. Hopefully someday it will all come together and you then can ‘loan out’ your child as a good role model!

For more information or for more information on diet and nutrition contact: The Community Nutrition and Dietetic Service, HSE Dublin-Mid Leinster, on (044 ) 9395518 or email [email protected].

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