Growing Good Eaters
When we think of “healthy eating”, we often think of fruits, vegetables, fresh foods and limiting “junk” foods. However, healthy eating is so much more! Having a healthy mindset towards food is just as important as eating healthy. Let’s explore this further…
Healthy eating is about…
Enjoying the food you eat.
Giving yourself permission to eat all types of foods, and trusting your body to tell you what, and how much, to eat.
Not restricting “junk” food, and including these foods in your diet when you feel like it.
Healthy eaters tend to have a better nutrient intake, get more exercise, sleep better, and feel better about themselves in everyday life.
How can I explain this to my child?
Explaining the concept of healthy eating to children can be tricky. Promoting healthy eating behaviors, and more importantly, a healthy mindset towards food, will shape children’s attitudes towards food in adulthood.
Parents and educators can get their children to understand healthy eating by modelling positive food behaviors in the household. Parents should understand the shared responsibility between carers and children when it comes to food and eating. The level of responsibility your child has over their feeding changes with age.
The Childhood Feeding Stages
As our children grow, their stages of feeding change. This gives parents and educators an understanding of what to expect at meal-times at each age.
Decide whether you want to breast feed or formula feed your child. You child is responsible for determining when, where, how much and how fast they will eat.
Your child continues to receive their main source of nutrition through breastmilk or formula. When your child is ready, you may begin introducing solid foods. Your child will decide if and how much of the solids they would like to eat.
Finger-feeding begins, and children can become included in family meal-times. Parents now control what, when and where the child eats, while the child is responsible for deciding how much they want to eat, if at all.
Eating behaviours become erratic, picky and unpredictable. Parents maintain control of what, when and where the child eats, while the child is responsible for deciding how much they want to eat, if at all.
Parents control what, when and where the 3 meals and snacks are provided. Children remain responsible for serving themselves the quantity they would like of each food.
Begin to allow your child to decide on the snacks they would like to eat. Parents remain responsible for providing 3 family meals every day.
Begin to provide food management strategies for when they move out of home, such as meal planning, food preparation, shopping and storage.
How to develop a healthy mindset in young children
Healthy mindsets towards food start at home. As a parent, it is easy to worry about whether your child is eating enough or getting the right nutrients. Moving the focus away from what or how much your child eats, and instead move your focus towards how you are delivering meals, and how your child feels. This is a step in the right direction towards promoting a healthy mindset towards food! And of course, the same model can be applied within a childcare setting.
Below are some steps to guide your journey towards growing a good eater:
Keep a consistent feeding routine that consists of 3 meals and snacks every day. Ensure you and your child are seated at the table for every meal and snack, and eat together.
Model positive eating behaviours, and speak positively about the food you are eating. For example “I love the flavour of these potatoes!”.
Allow your child to decide what, and how much, they would like to eat of the food you have offered. If they decide that they are not hungry for a meal, learn that this is normal. Trust your child’s hunger cues, and learn not to worry about the quantity of food they have eaten. This is in their control, not yours.
Offer the entire meal at once, and let your child decide the order in which they would like to eat. If they would like their single-serve dessert first, accept that this is okay.
Don’t force your child to try new foods before they are ready. This can make mealtimes stressful and do more harm than good.
Avoid restricting foods or eating only “healthy” foods. Including “junk” foods in everyday meals and snacks teaches your child that these foods are no better or worse than other foods. Depriving your child of “junk” foods can cause them to binge on these when they get the chance. Avoid labelling foods as “good” or “bad”, and understand that all foods play a role in making up a balanced diet.
Keep mealtimes pleasant and calm. Frantic meals can lead to an unpleasant meal experience, impacting your child’s attitude towards the meal.
Remember, healthy eating is so much more than just the food we eat.
Developing a positive relationship with food is the first step towards a healthy, well-balanced diet. It is important for parents to remember that they are in control of when, where and what the child is offered to eat. However, the child is always in control of how much they want to eat, if it all.
If you are concerned about your child’s diet, have any questions, or would like personalised information, Our Dietitians are here to help. Our clinic in Mulgrave is easily located in the southeast suburbs of Melbourne, and our Dietitians are available for telehealth for anyone around Australian.
For Childcare centres, our Dietitians can help you too! We offer menu reviews, recipes and educations sessions to help you promote healthy eating for these growing bodies. Find out more here.