Developing Lifelong Eating Habits.
Healthy and positive relationships with food and eating start when we are young, and are formed through various life experiences, alongside a developing sense of taste associated with likes and dislikes. Parents have the greatest influence on what their child will eat (at least while they are little, later peers have some influence too!). Repeated exposure to different foods, even before a baby is born, can help develop liking.
The trick is not to turn mealtimes into a battleground, but rather make it a positive place where family meet to interact and enjoy the wonderful foods that we are so fortunate to be able to eat everyday.
Here's my Top 10 tips:
1. Plan meals with some input from everyone.
For example, if you are making a list for the week, ask everyone to contribute what they would like for at least one meal, being involved in this decision making helps each child to feel they have some control in what they eat, and helps build empathy for others when it's their turn to decide. When time allows, it also helps to have children involved in preparation, even just washing the vegetables, or top and tailing beans can increase the likelihood they will try the foods prepared.
2. When serving meals only serve up a reasonable amount.
An overfull plate can be overwhelming, and there is nothing positive in making someone eat more than they need. Kids generally have a good connection to their hunger and fullness cues, and this should be encouraged as a great lifelong skill. During a growth spurt they may ask for more, it's easy to dish up extra when this is the case.
3. An adult's job is to provide the food, and set the scene for mealtimes.
It is the child's choice as to what to eat and how much. It is important that this division of responsibility is clear and not a stress for anyone. There aren't rules for what a meal should look like, this will vary from family to family. Ideally everyone is sitting comfortably and there should be no distractions e.g. television or electronic devices. Don't make a fuss when a plate isn't empty. Let your children decide what and how much to eat.
4. Focus on mealtime attitude rather than achievement.
Congratulate them on their happy face at the table, and what a great job they did to try a new food, and how you really appreciate their efforts when you put in the work to make a meal for them. Congratulate them that they didn't make a fuss when it wasn't their meal of choice, and how they showed caring and respected the choice that someone else in the family made, and how much you really appreciate such a great attitude.
5. It can take up to 20 exposures to a new food until a child will eat it.
(From experience I think it's closer to 40 at times). New or unusual tastes can be challenging for some. No big deal! always just put a small amount of all foods onto their plate and suggest they have a "little try" each time, repeated exposure over time can lead to liking, so it's worth pursuing. However, it's important to note that this "trying" must not be forced, just suggested, and whatever the child's choice is needs to be respected, there's always next time. Eventually you may find that a child actually has a few foods that they just don't like, and as long as it's a short list that is ok too.
6. Present new foods along side foods that they like.
They will eventually associate that food with the liked taste. For example if they like the mashed potato but avoid the peas, ask them to try a few peas mixed in with the potato (just a few) and slowly they should accept the new taste.
7. Keep the language about food positive at all times.
This means at the table and away from it. Your children are so desperately learning and imitating all of the things that you do, that if you make a face and refuse certain foods then they will quickly do the same. You need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk to get children to develop the habits that you would like them to have, and these can be lifelong so are worth the effort, who knows you may try foods that you thought you wouldn't like and be pleasantly surprised.
8. The language about food also includes language about body image and dieting.
This is a big topic all of its own, however it effects eating habits. In summary when you talk about weight issues and your body insecurities your children are all ears, they will quickly interpret this to themselves. Before you know it they may suffer with the same self doubt and perhaps even unhealthy relationships with food. Never be self deprecating about your size around them, talk about health and strength, and listening to what your body needs, and to take care to look after your health with wholesome foods, and what a joy food is, and how great it is to share this with our friends and family.
9. As kids reach various growth and development milestones, their eating habits and challenges may change.
What a child was happy to do one day may change into a hard fast "no" the next. This is about them developing an understanding about what they can control, rather than about the food. So let it wash over dinner time and continue with the same mealtime routine, they will soon navigate their new grown up self to work into a happy eating routine.
10. Leave any squabbles in the other room.
Don't bring stress to the table, kids feel it straight away, and if exposure to this is continuous may even associate these experiences with mealtimes. Come to the table with a desire to be with them, and enjoy the time together.
Here are some great links to help you positively influence your child's body image:
If you have any queries about this information, or require more specific advice, please contact Reception to make an appointment to discuss it further with Tracy.