Mealtime Woes – Encouraging Healthy Food Habits #TeachMeTuesday
We all know that children need healthy and nutritious food to nourish their growing bodies and brains but opinions on eating and how you should feed your kids vary greatly. Every parent will develop their own preferred approach to food. Here are some general tips that I hope you find useful, regardless of your particular philosophy towards eating.
Exposure, Exposure, Exposure – don’t give up! Just because you served up broccoli once and your little one wasn’t interested, don’t throw in the towel just yet. Some studies show that children need to be exposed to certain foods 15 – 30 times before they are willing to try it. Chop it, puree it, bake it, boil it – show that food can be prepared in multiple ways and even if your child isn’t interested in it, place a bit on his or her plate each time and you might find that eventually they show interest.
Give them choice. That doesn’t mean allowing them to eat chocolate cake for dinner followed by sour keys for dessert. Power struggles can sometimes be the product of children feeling that they need to exercise some control. Forcing children to eat certain things can often result in a fruitless (pardon the pun) battle. Try the ‘manufactured choice’ route – involve them in food prep as much as you can and give them a couple of healthy choices to choose from. If they’re not interested, try not to make a big deal out of it – it can often exacerbate the problem. In time and with multiple exposures, your child should be able to find at least a few healthy options they’re happy to munch on.
Eat together. Often parents are so concerned about the nutritional benefits of eating that they forget about the vitally important social aspect of mealtimes. Think about how many of your social affairs revolve around brunch plans or meeting up with friends and family for dinner and drinks. The kitchen table is often the place where people catch up on the day’s events and have some real face-to-face time. Because of our increasingly busy days, it can also be, for some, the only time or place where the family gets to spend some quality time together during the week. Whether your child is interested or not in what’s being served on the plate, the ritual act of sitting down for a set period of time together should not be underestimated.
Children develop their eating habits early on in life. By exposing them to a range of foods, giving them choice in what they eat and by making mealtimes an important social experience, you’re on your way to setting them up for mealtime success.
Talia Shapero is an experienced dual qualified teacher in Ontario and the UK who has a passion for early years education. She is co-founder of the Smart Cookie Club, a holistic, play-based learning program for toddlers and preschoolers and their parents and nannies.
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