Just like learning to walk or tying shoes, children need help to learn to eat as well. Parents need to push for more nutrition-rich food choices so that they build a strong immunity right from the start.
With the rapidly changing environment, there’s a need for stronger immunity in the generation. That’s why it’s important that parents know how to raise a healthy Gen Alpha that can tackle all kinds of external and internal issues.
At the same time, opening them a variety of food options will not make them picky eaters. They are less likely to be fussy growing up and that’s a sign of relief for you.
As you begin implementing these steps, remember that every child is different and you know your child best. It may take about 10 to 15 times of introducing new foods to your child before they actually try them. But when they do like it, you know it’s worth the effort.
So, stay patient and positive, and adopt healthy eating habits for kids in these six steps.
Step 1: Manage Mealtime
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When it comes to healthy eating habits for kids, it’s necessary to establish a set meal and snack times to help your child understand hunger and fullness.
Decide on a time range that each meal will be served daily. For instance,
- Breakfast between 6:30-7:30 am
- Morning snack between 10:00-10:30 am
- Lunch between 12:00-1:00 pm
- Afternoon snack between 3:00-3:30 pm
- Dinner between 6:00-7:00 pm
There should be a gap of around two to four hours in-between each meal or snack. Let your child consume only water between the mealtimes.
Choose mealtimes based on your family’s routines.
Follow the schedule for two weeks and reassess the programme and status accordingly. If the feeding schedule is not working, make adjustments with the times set, based on your family’s needs.
Step 2: Learn To Understand Your Child’s Hunger Signals
As you set meal times, pay attention to your child’s signs of being full or hungry.
- How do I know when my child is hungry?
- How do I know when my child is full?
If you can’t answer these questions, pay attention to how your child behaves around meals for a week. Do remember that all children are different, so it may take a shorter or longer time to understand your child’s hunger signals.
Feed your child when they show signs of hunger and end meals when she shows signs of being full. Don’t try to force meals. Instead, you may need to adjust meal times if your child is consistently hungry before the time you set to eat. (See Step 1 for tips on setting mealtimes)
Step 3: Choose Healthy Foods
Make the right foods available by taking these into consideration:
Make a list of foods your family eats often. Circle foods that have at least one of these characteristics:
- Any fruit or vegetable
- Fortified cereal or grain
- Nuts or seeds
- Fresh meat, poultry, fish, or pulses (lentils, peas, beans)
- Milk-based products
- Not highly processed (contains less than 5 ingredients)
Serve two or more of the circled foods at each meal and snack.
Modify the texture of these foods to match your child’s feeding abilities:
- Soft textures (mashed or pureed food)
- Soft finger foods (bananas and cooked vegetables)
- Crunchy foods (apple slices or cooked food)
Check the following options based on your family’s lifestyle:
- Mealtime is working based on my family’s schedule
- We have added healthy or new food options into mealtime
- If not, reassess and repeat steps 1 through 3
Step 4: Create The “Family Table”
Here’s why the family table is important of your child’s growth journey:
- Start as soon as your child begins eating solid foods.
- Family members should all sit together as often as possible to eat meals and snacks. Remember, watching others eat is an important part of learning to eat.
- Use a high chair if possible and pull it up to the table. Have any other parent or sibling sit across from your child so they can see each other eating.
- Eat foods yourself while you feed your child (Give him a bite, take a bite yourself).
- Do not make comments about what foods or how much food your child eats.
- Don’t pressure your child to take a bite.
- Comment about what the food looks and tastes like or how much you like it.
- Allow your child to feed himself as much as possible and to touch and play with food.
- Do not wipe his face during the meal – let him make a mess.
Control the chaos by:
- Setting rules for behaviour at the table. For instance, no throwing food or no taking food from other’s plates without asking.
- If children break behaviour rules, remove them from the table and put them in time-out for several minutes. Then ask them to return them to the table.
- End family meals after 20 to 30 minutes unless children are still actively eating.
- If the child is done, they may leave the table.
Step 5: Learn What Kind Of Feeding Style You Have
- Am I anxious or worried that my child is not eating enough or eating the wrong foods?
- Should I be content with how and what my child eats?
- Am I concerned that my child is eating too much or too often?
If you answered “yes” to the first two questions, then it is important to understand what feeding practices you use in response to your concerns about eating.
Put a check across the letter for each feeding practice you use with your child.
- (C) I often nag my child to eat more of a specific food.
- (C) I frequently force my child take at least a bite of food.
- (R) I sit and eat with my child.
- (I) Whenever my child asks for something to eat, I give it to her or him.
- (P) At times, I forget to give my child meals.
- (I) My child gets only those foods that I know they like.
- (C) I give my child dessert if he or she eats a good meal.
- (P) I let my child choose his or her own meals.
- (R) I don’t let my child eat in between set meals and snack time.
- (I) Preparing special foods for my child when they don’t like what’s on the menu is what I do.
- (R) I serve healthy foods and let my child choose what he or she wants to eat.
- (C) I take away my child’s plate if he or she is eating too much.
- (P) My child can eat whenever he or she wants.
- (R) I don’t force my child to eat when he or she is not hungry.
- (I) When my child starts crying at the table, I give him or her something else to eat.
- (P) I don’t really know or care what my child eats.
Count the number of check marks of each letter you have made. The largest number of feeding practices you marked with the same letter gives you an idea of which feeding style you tend to use:
(P) = Passive feeding style
(C) = Controlling feeding style
(I) = Indulgent feeding style
(R) = Responsive feeding style
Step 6: Consistently Offer New Foods
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- Offer your child food they don’t eat or haven’t tried before at least once day.
- Put a small amount of the new food on their plate
- Make sure there are one or two foods you know she eats on the plate as well
- Do not pressure her to take a bite or to try the new food
- Talk positively about the new food and other foods on the plate.
Is Your Child A Healthy Eater?
Parents should work with all caregivers, including babysitters and grandparents, who are involved in mealtimes. It takes a group effort to inculcate healthy eating habits for kids.
As a principle, be sure to observe their interactions and attitude during meals. Work with other caregivers collaboratively to ensure that everyone is following the same steps and guidelines.
5 Healthy Eating Habits For Kids
- Have plenty of water
- Eat slowly and finish your meal
- Always add more fruit and vegetables
- Switch to whole grains as often as possible
- Stick to one serving to keep the calorie intake in check.
About the author
Kim Milano is a nutritional consultant from Fort Jackson, South Carolina. She has obtained her Master of Science degree from the University of Kansas, where she also completed her internship.
Kim has been specialising in pediatric nutrition over the past 28 years, with an emphasis on feeding difficulties in infants and toddlers. She coordinated the inpatient and outpatient Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN) programmes at Children’s National Medical Centre in Washington DC from 2002 to 2006, where she helped children transition from tube feeding and intravenous feeding to normal diets. From 2007-2009, she continued to work with children with feeding disorders and obesity at Evans Army Community Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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