Healthy eating for your child
By teaching your children healthy eating habits, you can keep them at a healthy weight. Also, the eating habits your children pick up when they are young will help them maintain a healthy lifestyle when they are adults.
If you are unsure about how to select and prepare a variety of foods for your family, consult a doctor or registered dietitian for nutrition advice.
Tips for healthy eating habits:
- Encourage your children to eat slowly. A child can detect hunger and fullness better when eating slowly.
- Guide your family's choices rather than dictate foods. Make a wide variety of healthful foods available in the house. This practice will help your children learn how to make healthy food choices
Eat meals together as a family as often as possible. Try to make mealtimes pleasant/fun with conversation and sharing, not a time for scolding or arguing. If mealtimes are unpleasant, children may try to eat faster to leave the table as soon as possible. They then may learn to associate eating with stress.
Involve your children in food shopping and choosing and preparing meals. These activities will give you hints about your children's food preferences, an opportunity to teach your children about nutrition and provide your kids with a feeling of accomplishment. In addition, children may be more willing to eat or try foods that they help choose and prepare.
Plan for snacks. Continuous snacking may lead to overeating, but snacks that are planned at specific times during the day can be part of a nutritious diet, without spoiling a child's appetite at meal times. You should make snacks as nutritious as possible, without depriving your children of occasional chips or cookies, especially at parties or other social events. Make them fun, make notes, stickers etc.
Discourage eating meals or snacks while watching TV. Try to eat only in designated areas of your home, such as the dining room or kitchen. Eating in front of the TV may make it difficult to pay attention to feelings of fullness, and may lead to overeating. It also denies families an opportunity to ‘catch up’
Encourage your children to choose water as their beverage. Over consumption of sweetened drinks and sodas has been linked to increased rates of obesity in children.
Try not to use food to punish or reward your children. Withholding food as a punishment may lead children to worry that they will not get enough food. For example, sending children to bed without any dinner may cause them to worry that they will go hungry. As a result, children may try to eat whenever they get a chance. Similarly, when foods, such as sweets, are used as a reward, children may assume that these foods are better or more valuable than other foods. For example, telling children that they will get dessert if they eat all of their vegetables sends the wrong message about vegetables.
Make sure your children's meals outside the home are balanced. Find out more about their school lunch programme, or pack their lunch to include a variety of foods. Also, select healthier items when dining at restaurants.
What not to do:
- Don't react angrily to a child/young person refusing to eat.
- Don't punish a child/young person for not eating. If this occurs, then food becomes the enemy which defeats your goal of increasing the young person’s diet.
- Don't act in such a way which suggests that you are highly anxious or panicking about a refusal to eat (in other words, remain calm).
- Don't try to force a child/young person to eat.
- Don't get into conversations about how fat or thin people are or about whether this is a good or bad thing.
- Don't get into conversations about your own difficulties with eating or drinking.
When to contact a mental health specialist:
- If you have concerns that a pattern of restrictive eating has become established and the young person is developing an obsessive attitude towards food and weight loss, whilst appearing to become less healthy as a result / weight loss, seek immediate advice from your GP or local mental heath specialists.
- If you are given an indication that the child/young person’s change of eating habits has been in response to a serious trauma in their lives, such as sexual abuse, seek advice from your GP/local mental health specialists and/or social work department.