"Unlock the Potential of Food"
While Canada is celebrated for its cultural diversity, the one thing we do have in common is our love of food! In this year’s Nutrition Month campaign, Dietitians of Canada is helping Canadians Unlock the Potential of Food. Through discovering the joys of cooking and eating together with family and friends, adults are also tasked with helping the next generation unlock their food potential.
Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s frustrating when you feel like a child won’t eat anything. Helping children discover the food they do or don’t like to eat has its ups and downs. Kids can be picky. They can like one thing one day and suddenly refuse it the next.
Parents, do you remember discovering Sam-I-am and his Green Eggs and Ham? Dr. Seuss’ classic tale of overcoming picky eating is in good company with other books that teach children how to eat well through food and loveable characters.
Exploring foods your family enjoys alongside books, poems, and songs is a wonderful way to help children develop their food preferences. More variety in a child’s diet leads to better health and ultimately less fussiness with their food choices. (For more book ideas to accompany your next meal, check out these 8 great after dinner reads.)
Here are my top 5 feeding tips to help children become healthy, competent eaters.
- Provide regular sit-down meals and snacks: Children want routine, they thrive on it. An easy routine to follow is 3 meals and 2-3 snacks each day, with water served in-between. Regular sit-down meals and snacks will help children learn when to expect to eat, about their own body’s hunger cues and how to regulate their appetite.
- Serve familiar with unfamiliar foods: Children naturally want to eat well. In time, they will learn to eat a variety of foods, but how much of a food to eat is up to them. Let children choose to eat or not eat what is offered.
- Time for table talk: Children want a pleasant mealtime without pressure focused on what they are eating. Instead of focusing table talk on how much or what type of food a child is or isn’t eating, talk about something else such as an event in your day. If food is discussed, focus on its colour, shape, taste, smell, or texture.
- Model healthy eating behaviour: Children want to eat like you do. This means providing a variety of foods for both meals and snacks for you and them. Provide children with the same place setting as the parent’s (child-sized knife, spoon etc. if possible). Children learn how to eat by watching their parents.
- Help children get served or let them serve themselves: Children want to feel independent. After food is served, remain neutral and don’t place pressure on how much and what to eat. Avoid reminding, insisting, encouraging, suggesting, or praising children’s food choices.
If you already use these tips, fantastic! If these are new to you, it is understandable you might experience difficulties adopting new habits. Be confident that with your help, children will become more competent eaters, mealtimes will be more peaceful, and your family will have a healthy relationship with their food.
*Article adapted from a previous publication in the Decoda E-Newsletter, January 2018.