How to encourage healthy eating in kids

17/11/2014 Advice for teachers, Healthy Eating, Help for Parents

We know how impressionable young children can be and that’s why it’s important to encourage healthy eating by setting a good example. Kids will copy their role models and learn from their care takers, and if their care takers are making smart food choices, it’s more likely the kids will too. Exposing children to healthy food is important. Other than your vital role-modelling, here are some other ways to encourage healthy eating so your children learn to enjoy healthy foods.

Plate it up!

In fact, research shows that if a child has previously been exposed to a food, they are more likely to try it. Interestingly, this exposure begins in utero via amniotic fluid and continues after birth through breast milk and then through the feeding of solid foods. Studies have found that the more a child is exposed to a food, they more likely they will eat the food. That means, just because your child rejects a tomato the first time you offer it, doesn’t mean you should give up.  Research shows that you need to expose a child to food between 10 and 15 times before they start to like a previously disliked food. So don’t give up! Keep placing small servings of vegetables on your child’s plate, even if you think it’s ineffective – this exposure is making a difference. Let them pick it up and play with it. You can encourage them to have a taste, but don’t worry too much if they don’t eat it – it’s all a learning process.

For more information on shaping positive eating behaviours, click here.

Read about it!

If you don’t like the food wastage that comes with continually offering your child food they don’t eat, studies show that exposing your children to healthy foods through reading books is also effective. Of course, eventually you have to give them the real thing, but building familiarity through books can help them accept the food in a positive light once it is presented.

There are plenty of children’s books with food as a key theme, including old favourites such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Green Eggs and Ham. Research shows that showing kids pictures of fruits or vegetables or reading books with pictures of them or about them is one way to build familiarity. While The Very Hungry Caterpillar may not teach the best eating habits, nowadays there are plenty of children’s books that try and engage kids and teach them healthier habits.

Healthy Kids recently supplied NSW schools participating in Fruit & Veg Month with copies of books from the Kindy Kitchen series. Each book in the series contains a wonderful, illustrated adventure story about fruit and vegetables designed to spark children’s imaginations. They also contained an innovative recipe featuring a food character from the story with instructions on how to create it and beautiful illustrations and vital facts about the ingredients.

Other books aimed at teaching the younger audience healthy habits include: I’m having a rainbow for dinner developed by Nutrition Australia Queensland and Metro North Brisbane Medicare Local; and The Magic Lunchbox developed with the support of Health Promotion services on the Central Coast.

However, there are few such resources aimed at older aged primary school kids. A recent study in New York developed a manga comic called Fight For Your Right to Fruit about the main character called Kenzo who learns to make healthy choices. Manga comics are a Japanese form of comic art that use minimal, narrative text and captivating images to send a message.

The study of 57 youths with an average age of 11 evaluated if the comic had a positive impact on their eating habits. When provided with a choice of snacks, children who had read the comic were almost four times more likely to choose fruit as a snack, in comparison to those who did not read the healthy comics. A huge positive result!

To download your free copy of Fight For Your Right to Fruit, follow this link.

Even without specific books that talk about healthy foods, you can show your child healthy recipes in magazines or point out healthy foods at the grocery store. Talk about how delicious fruit and vegetables are! All this groundwork lays the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating. Good luck!

– HKA, November 2014