Food provides nutrients and energy that children need for healthy growth and development. Feeding your child a healthy diet is becoming more challenging in the 21st century, foods are providing lower levels of vitamins and minerals for children to consume and unhealthy options are becoming more readily available. Knowing what food groups make up good nutrition for a child is the first step in promoting healthy eating from infancy (Lerner and Parlakian, 2006).
What does food mean to you, the feeding relationship?
It is important to install healthy eating habits from infancy for children to develop a positive attitude towards healthy food. Roberts and Heyman state that “knowledge of babies and toddlers cognitive, social and emotional development can provide a good roadmap for actively modelling and encouraging healthy food preferences” (2000, p. 25). Roberts and Heyman (2000) have stated that the following strategies are helpful during the first three years of a child’s life and are an optimum time for establishing healthy eating habits:
1. Accept a division of control:
It is important to give children a sense of control over how much they eat – children are more than capable of communicating with you when they are full or hungry. Parents or caregivers need to focus more on putting healthy choices on the table that children will enjoy, then letting the child exercise control of portion size (Roberts and Heyman, 2000).
2. Exploit the 12-to-21 month “window of opportunity” to jump start healthy eating:
Between the ages of 12-to-21 months, young children will try and put everything in their mouths, take advantage of this, it is a great time for getting all safe and healthy food accepted and enjoyed!
Good foods to try include:
· Fruits and vegetables – raw and cooked.
· Bread, low fat crackers, low-sugar cereals, pasta, potatoes, rice, tortillas, and cooked grains.
· All kinds of meats, poultry, and fish accept those containing nitrites such as most (hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage).
· Dairy products, including milk, eggs, yogurt and cheese.
· Beans and peas and bean products.
· Food with small amounts of spices and herbs so that children can learn to taste.
(Roberts and Heyman, 2000).
It is essential to provide young children with a variety of foods to avoid conflict, boredom and fussy eating. It also ensures that children are getting all the essential micronutrients they need (Roberts and Heyman, 2000). Rotating key food groups such as fruit, vegetables and protein sources will provide children with a balance of vitamins and minerals that are needed for optimal health. Changing the look, texture or taste of food is also a good way to provide variety, for example, potatoes can be baked and mashed!
4. Involve your child in food preparation:
Children love getting involved with food and they love to cook! Using your child’s interest in food is a great way to introduce them to foods they may not normally want to eat. Gardening, helping out with making lunch or dinner or even talking about items while shopping at the supermarket are all valuable ways to make healthy food seem interesting.
Activities to involve children in:
· Making lunch or dinner
· Making a salad
· Food shopping
· Writing ingredient lists
Mealtimes provide rich opportunities for you to support your child’s overall healthy development, especially their physical and social and emotional health. Introducing children to healthy food in healthy ways from infancy will allow children to learn to enjoy the foods that are best for them!