It’s a fact that the first three years of a child’s life set the foundation. That’s why what they eat in these early years is so important. My daughter is nearly two years old and eats practically anything I give her. From an early age, she loved Greek yoghurt, lamb, avocado, dragon fruit, legumes, green vegetables, olives, curries, tahini sauce, chilli stir-fries, and the list goes on.
Some people are fascinated when they watch her eat so much variety. “Most kids I’ve seen at her age mainly eat fried food like nuggets, hot chips, macaroni and plain foods”, a friend said to me once. I found this hard to believe! But speaking to other mothers lately, it might be more common than I thought.
Don’t get me wrong, she has her days where she won’t eat as much. But every day she begs for things like lentils, broccoli, chickpeas, blueberries and olives.
When she was under one year old, I didn’t feed her processed sugar and salt. Firstly, I felt like her organs were too small to be able to process such things, and secondly, I didn’t want to get her used to these flavours at such a young age.
As she got older, over 18 months, I slowly allowed her to try sweets, like cakes and chocolate in moderation. Why? Because I don’t believe in fully restricting things from one’s diet. I want her to be able to make her own decisions when she gets older about choosing foods that are good for her and eating things in moderation. After all, life would be so boring if you didn’t enjoy that piece of cake on your birthday.
In saying that, I’ve not yet given her processed fruit juice, soft drink or lollies. I’ve been shielding her from these as long as possible. We don’t really consume these at home either, so at the moment she doesn’t really know what she is missing out on. I prefer to focus on serving my daughter water at all times. On occasion, she may have some freshly squeezed orange juice watered down and of course full cream cow’s milk.
15 Tips to encourage good eating habits:
Breastfeeding exposes your baby to lots of different flavours from an early age through your breastmilk, making them develop a more sophisticated palate. Scientists have confirmed that breastfed infants get used to small flavour changes and so they become more accepting of a variety of flavours compared to formula-fed infants. Another great reason to breastfeed!
2. Serve healthy food
I know this sounds so obvious, but I need to mention it because what’s common sense to one person sometimes isn’t to another. It’s your job as the parent to ensure you are serving your child plenty of protein, vegetables and fruit throughout the day. Whether your child chooses to eat it all is out of your hands, but it’s your role to make it available.
3. Be persistent
Just because your child turns their nose up at something the first time, doesn’t mean he doesn’t like it. There are many reasons why a child may reject a food. I once read that it can take up to ten exposures to a food before a child knows whether they like it.
4. Don’t be a kitchen slave
We all know at least one parent that will make their child separate meals because their child turned up their nose at the first meal that was served. DON’T fall in to this trap, it only encourages repeat behaviour and fussy eating. Cook the same meal for the whole family to eat, no exceptions.
5. Set a good example
If you want your child to eat well you need to practice what you preach. Children learn from what they see, and they are more likely to want to try lots of new tastes and textures if they see you eating a variety of food.
6. Don’t talk negatively about food
Talk about food in a positive manner. If you screw your nose up at capsicum and use the words ‘yuck’ to describe foods, your child will most likely copy and do the same.
7. Don’t use food as a reward
Food, including lollies and sweets, should never be used to reward your child. Find other ways to reward your child, like a day out somewhere or a turn on the shopping centre ride.
8. Don't deny food
Be realistic! It’s all about moderation. Denying food like a small piece of cake isn’t giving your child the life skills to make good food decisions down the track. And often I feel if you completely restrict something it actually makes it more appealing. Therefore, the chances of them binge eating when they are at a friend’s house or party is higher.
9. Have a schedule
Have allocated meal times, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and maybe morning tea or afternoon tea in between.
10. Minimise snacking
Constant snacking, or grazing, throughout the day, is likely to interfere with your child eating properly during set meal times. Try to minimise this where possible, especially close to meal times. If your little one is demanding a snack close to dinner time, try to use distraction as a strategy instead of giving in to their demands. Forms of distraction include: playing games, singing, dancing, helping set the table, etc.
11. Eat together
Where possible eat at the same time as your child. If you cannot do this throughout day, allocate a set family meal time where everyone in the family eats together. Eating dinner all together at the dining table with no TV or distractions encourages everyone to converse. It’s not just about the food, it’s the experience of coming together and connecting with people.
12. Encourage ‘trying’ new foods
If your child wants to try a new food, go with it. Even if it’s only a small bite and it’s not well received, the fact that your child felt adventurous to try something new should be encouraged. When your child does this be positive and show praise, to encourage the repeated behaviour.
13. Involve children in the grocery shopping
As children get older, it’s a great opportunity to involve them in the shopping. You could make it a fun activity every time you go shopping for your child to pick a new fruit or vegetable they haven’t tried before.
14. Allow children to help prepare food
Allowing children to help prepare their meals, like their sandwiches, involves them in the process, and educates them. I’ve never met a child who doesn’t love helping mummy in the kitchen. Even if it’s just helping wash the berries or mixing sauce in a bowl, it will give your child a sense of independence and achievement.
15. Grow food together
If you can, encourage your child to grow and care for food like herbs or vegetables. Children love using their watering can, and it will teach them the basics of where some of their food comes from. Time spent outdoors away from the TV is also a bonus.
*All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.