Child Nutrition: Tips to Encourage Healthy Eating in Kids

By Cherise Pendergrast

Be Creative:

  • Have fun with the foods you are providing.There are lots of ideas online for ways to creatively serve foods.
  • Kids like bright colours, and contrasts of foods look more appetising than a plate of white or beige foods which can look plain.
  • Presentation is key. Present food in a different way such as kebabs instead of fruit or vegetable slices.

Variety is essential:
Our bodies need lots of different nutrients working together to optimise our health; to ensure this happens, we need to have a wide range of foods available.
Offer a range of foods from all the food groups over the course of the day.

  • Protein from eggs, nuts, seeds, fish, legumes, meat and dairy products
  • Carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits, cereals, grains, breads
  • Plenty of water
  • Limit availability of treat foods

See here for NZ Ministry of Health Guidelines on Healthy Eating.

Give kids options: Allow kids to choose what they would like to eat from the range of healthy food and snacks you have available. When the pressure of expecting to eat a certain amount or disliked foods is removed, children are more likely to try a variety of foods.
You may be surprised at how much they eat when they are given choices.

Include fruit and veges in other foods:
Adding extra fruit and veges to other foods boosts the fibre, vitamin and micronutrient levels of foods.
Smoothies and iceblocks can have a variety of fruits and veges added to them. The bonus is the strong colours can be more appealing.
You can also add fruits and veges to many cooked dishes- grate carrots and zucchini in to savoury dishes and add grated apple, apricot, banana, berries to sweet foods.

Holiday Programe

Positive encouragement:
Our tastebuds develop over time and tastes can be learned. Children need frequent and positive exposure to lots of different tastes and often find some tastes of vegetables unappealing as their tastebuds are still developing. It can take as many as ten tries for a child to like some foods.

This is what helps children persevere and develop new tastes:

  • Positive encouragement
  • Peers also eating them
  • Adults modeling enjoying different foods
  • Avoid using treat foods as an incentive/reward to trying the less well-liked foods.

Make the healthy choice the easy choice:

  • Make fresh vegetables, fruit and water freely available throughout the day
  • Limit access to processed foods such as chips, cookies and juice.

Water and (unflavoured) milk are the best choices for children.

  • They both have minerals which help build and protect teeth and bones
  • They both help neutralise sugar in the mouth to prevent the damage to teeth which results in dental cavities
  • Water and milk satisfy thirst more than sugary drinks do (including fruit juice)

Dehydration starts before you feel thirsty. Encourage children to drink small amounts of water regularly throughout the day, especially during hot weather and physical activity (including swimming).

Help kids listen to their bodies: Learning to listen to the cues in your body takes practice. If children are told they must finish everything on their plate- they will ignore the signals their body gives when they are full.

  • Some children have big appetites, others not so much.
  • Some people prefer eating on different schedules.
  • As much as possible, allow children to choose their own portion size and stop when they have had enough.
  • Be aware that treat foods tend to be overeaten as the cues of 'fullness'/I've had enough' are dulled by the sugars and fats contained in treat foods.

Tags: Before and After School, Holiday Programmes, Parents

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