Promoting Healthy Eating Habits

  • Mealtime means different things for babies, preschoolers and older children. Breastfeeding is best for babies and is the only food babies need until they are six months old. Solid foods are added to children's diets starting at 6 months of age. Preschoolers have special nutrition requirements. As children get older, their nutritional needs become more in line with those of adults.

    Bottle-fed babies should begin learning to drink from a training cup or glass at 12 to 15 months of age. Babies should not be put to bed with a bottle, because the liquid stays in the mouth and can cause tooth decay.
    Ensure that infants and toddlers are always supervised during feeding.


    What are some tips for developing good eating habits in children?

    While your children are young, they need to develop good eating habits that will last their lifetimes. Mealtime is the ideal opportunity to set an example by creating a positive atmosphere in which healthy food attitudes can be developed.

    Some tips include:

    • Serve your child well-balanced meals. These meals are healthy and they offer a wide variety of tastes and textures that your child will find enjoyable.
    • Use nutritional information to guide you in the introduction of new foods and average amounts required.
    • Offer a variety of nutritional foods prepared in a variety of ways. 
    • Ask an older child to help you do the shopping; this may spark an interest in food. The child can also help serve the food.


    How can parents introduce children of all ages to a variety of foods?

    • Introduce only one food at a time.
    • Serve the new food with familiar foods.
    • Encourage the child to taste a new food but do not coax the child to eat it. If the new food is rejected, accept the refusal calmly and try again in a few weeks. As new foods and new taste experiences become more familiar, children become more adventurous.
    • Let children explore. The more they know about a food, such as where it grows and how to prepare it, the more they will enjoy eating it.
    • Be a role model for children. If they see adults enjoying foods, they are more likely to try them.
    • Hard small, and round, smooth and sticky foods are not recommended because they may cause choking and aspiration.


    What are other important tips to remember?

    • Never use food as a reward or punishment.
    • When preparing food, always wash your hands, fresh fruits and vegetables, food containers, clean counters and utensils.
    • When storing foods use clean containers, refrigerate foods, and never return partly used food to a container.


    Fussy eaters

    Many young children go through periods of being fussy eaters and this is a normal part of growing up. Children often want to eat a certain food in a certain spot at a certain time and in a certain way. Many children, especially those from 1.5-5 years of age are sometimes picky eaters. They eat what appears to an adult as a small amount of food, and yet they are well, active and growing normally.


    What should parents do if their child doesn't appear healthy and growing normally?

    If a child is a fussy eater and does not appear to be healthy and growing normally, parents are advised to take the child to a physician for assessment.

    A child should never be forced to eat a specific food. However, if a child is hungry and given a choice of foods, he or she will more likely eat something. It is the role of parents to ensure that the foods from which a child can choose are all nutritious and appealing.


    How do parents encourage their child to eat?

    • Serve food that is fresh and presented in an attractive way.
    • Create a mealtime that is pleasant and relaxed.

    Talk about food; this may encourage a child to eat. Whenever possible, allow children to choose from one or two items on the menu (for example, a choice of peas or carrots for vegetables).