Raising healthy eaters is a real priority for families in this day and age. And for good reason. We know developing healthy lifestyle habits starts from a young age, and as parents we are one of our children’s most powerful role models in doing so.
Here we’ve collated our top list of our tips we developed for SA’s Kiddo Mag in 2018. Check the list and let us know how this style of feeding a family works for you!
Simple Steps to Grow Good Eaters
Bloom Nutrition Studio – Julia Boase & Angela Stradwick, Accredtied Practising Dietitians
It’s no secret that children can be fussy when it comes to family meals. In fact, some fussiness and food refusal is a perfectly normal part of feeding development in toddlers. But what can you do to stop this phase from becoming a more permanent fixture at your family table?
The good news is there’s plenty you can do to raise good eaters, and help bring harmony to dinner time.
Parents provide, child decides. This is the mantra of childhood feeding pioneer Ellyn Satter in her ‘Division of Responsibility in Feeding’, and it’s a good concept to remember at home. Parents choose the what, when and where of feeding, and children select from what’s on offer, deciding how much they will eat.
What to offer — Try serving the food you want your family to eat “buffet” style at the dinner table, including some options you know your child likes. A meal like spaghetti bolognese can be placed at the table, pasta, sauce, cheese, herbs, salad or vegetables all separately, and each family member serves themselves (with help for young children). If meals are served directly on the plate, let kids know it’s ok if they don’t like a certain part of the meal, just enjoy the parts they want to eat.
This way you allow your child some choice and independence within what you have provided, but there are no separate meals and no food wars. Over time, with repeated offering and role modelling, children become familiar with less-favourite foods, and are more keen to have a go.
When to offer – Have a predictable timing of meals and snacks. Let your child know it’s ok not to eat certain foods at that time, but the next time food is offered will be at the the following meal or snack.
Where to offer – Parents create the environment and try to set the tone of family meal times:
Eat together, often. Let your child see you eating and enjoying family meals. Family and friends are the perfect role models for young children, especially when it comes to eating.
Set the tone. Try to let mealtimes be relaxed. Talk about your day, or share a funny story. If you do talk about your meal, speak positively about the food, but don’t coerce, bribe or force your child to eat. While you eat say “I love how crunchy and sweet these capsicums are”, rather than “Try one bite of capsicum, please!”.
Make friends with food. For children already showing signs of fussiness, have your child interact with food away from the dinner table. Grow fruit, veggies, or herbs in pots or your garden. Have your child pick up the produce and place it in your shopping basket or trolley, talking about each item as you go. Read books about food, and use food in play, like making pictures, patterns, or counting. All of this is done with no expectation of your child eating, but expands their food comfort zone.
Consistency is key. Make these strategies a part of your regular routine, and good eating habits should follow. But don’t expect perfection at every meal – everyone has dislikes and bad days, and that’s ok!
Still worried? Some children, no matter what, will develop feeding problems which may need expert help. Parents tend to know when something is wrong – like a child who won’t touch food, may react to foods (tummy aches, loose poos, rashes), or is losing weight. Kids with medical conditions, allergies and autism may be especially at risk. See your doctor, and ask to see an Accredited Practicing Dietitian who specialises in children.