What Can Parents Do to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits in Young Children?
Healthy eating habits begin at home.
When your baby is ready for solids, it helps to think about what food to offer, and how to prepare nutritious meals. We understand that embarking on their food journey can be a mind-boggling one, so here is a handy guide to starting your baby on solids.
Children are very much like adults. They develop preferences and may choose to eat only certain foods at different stages. Therefore, parents would have to understand what their likes and dislikes are, consider how to “promote” healthier ingredients, and possibly introduce new foods into their diet to ensure children obtain adequate nutrition needed for healthy development.
#1: Offer more home-cooked meals
Whipping up homecooked meals lets you decide what goes into your dishes, and what not to add. Homecooked meals allow families to enjoy healthier meals with less oil, salt, and ingredients that are processed or are high in saturated fats. Food from outside usually contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), are deep fried, or use unhealthy oils to prepare, which may increase the risk of diseases in future.
Try offering more homecooked meals where possible.
#2: Choose fresh and healthy ingredients when shopping for grocery
When grocery shopping, point out to your children how fresh ingredients can offer plenty of nutrients that contribute to their health and growth. Younger kids will enjoy the sights and sounds at the supermarket or wet market, and are exposed to learning how to pick fresh ingredients to put a nutritional dish together. A sensorial learning experience for sure!
#3: Go with healthier cooking methods
Did you know that deep frying destroys more nutrients than steaming?
Health experts recommend boiling, steaming or blanching vegetables to minimise nutrient loss. Foods with beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein are best lightly cooked to enhance absorption of antioxidants by the body, and these are commonly found in tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and broccoli. In fact, contrary to belief, healthier cooking methods can conjure up delectable flavours too. Offer a variety of cooking methods to encourage exploration of textures and tastes for the palates.
#4: Educate children with the importance of healthy eating habits
Storybooks are engaging ways to share with young children why healthy eating is a positive approach to living well. The right knowledge empowers them to make the right food choices even through adulthood so a little goes a long way. Since our eating habits contribute to overall health and wellbeing, some parents take to showing their children the consequences of having unhealthy eating habits such as frequent consumption of fizzy drinks, and candies. A little visual sharing might just work for your kids too!
#5: Lead by example
Our children learn by watching our actions, behaviour and listening to what we say. When it comes to encouraging healthy eating habits, children are also observing if we walk the talk as parents. The food we eat and the choice of snacks we go for show our kids if we align our beliefs and actions. Take your pick from healthy snacks and a balanced diet – after all, they offer a multitude of benefits too!
#6: Reduce temptations of unhealthy food
While cutting out unhealthy food from our diets completely is not possible, eating in moderation helps. Processed food such as sausages, ice cream and candies are often associated with happy moments like parties and celebrations. This points to the psychological concept of Paired Associative Learning, where positive memories are associated with certain foods which are usually the less healthy ones.
#7: Avoid using junk food as rewards
Ditto the above point, and why putting junk food on that special pedestal makes children yearn for them even more. Using junk food or unhealthy snacks as a reinforcement to reward good behaviour is going to do more harm than good in the long run for your kids. But avoiding them totally is not feasible since other children will be eating them, and possibly taunting them. Hence, #4 comes peppered with patience, parents!
#8: Help them understand when they have eaten enough – Learn to self-regulate
Do your own parents used to tell you to finish everything on your plate? Or share stories of leaving food behind will mean that your future spouse would have a pimply complexion? Studies show that by encouraging them to eat as much as they can when food is served, or offering food to cope with emotional destress leads to future concerns such as overeating and obesity when children are older.
Children can learn to self-regulate when they are full, and stop when they wish. That allows them to be more aware of their bodies and be attuned with their actions and how they feel.
#9: Promote small portions of healthy snacks and treats
Is your child not a fan of mum-approved snacks and treats? Let your child take baby steps towards appreciating and enjoying healthy snacks for kids. Swap chocolate bars for granola bars. Instead of deep fried chicken wings, how about using the air fryer to make your own? Smarter choices can help your child realise that healthy food can be equally yummy too!
#10: Involve your children
Getting your children involved in making healthy eating a part of your family is a vital step. When kids are part of the decision-making process, or have their views heard, they feel part of the team and not forced to eat well because daddy or mummy instructed. Start with grocery shopping together as a family, and your children will appreciate the effort of picking out fresh ingredients all in a bid to cook up delicious and nutritious meals. During food preparation, toddlers can help crack eggs or use a child-friendly knife to cut vegetables. These are life skills your children are exposed too while having fun in the kitchen with mummy and daddy!
#11: Eat together as a family
Lastly, remember to enjoy wholesome meals together as a family. Eating is a social activity which allows adults and children to share about their day, and communicate with each other in a relaxed manner. After all, hearty and healthy meals are best shared as a family, don’t you think?
Embracing healthy eating habits are some ways to ensure better health and wellness for our children and loved ones. With healthier diets and a positive lifestyle, we are showing our children that taking care of our bodies is important. After all, raising world-ready children is a journey, and we want to be there to experience life together!