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    Healthy Eating Habits: Turn Down the Pressure and Turn up the Fun!

    The foundation of our relationship with food is impacted by experiences we have in childhood. Children learn about food, nutrition, and their bodies in many different ways, including:

    • Watching family, friends, and classmates at mealtimes
    • Exposure to different foods, tastes, and smells
    • Media: Advertising, commercials, TV shows
    • So much more!

    How do we raise children with healthy eating habits?

    Here are some tips and tricks to get you started!

    1. Get your child involved
    Children are naturally curious, and we want to encourage their curiosity about food! When meal planning, include your child in choosing new fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins. Encourage each family member to suggest a meal they want to have that week or a new food they want to try. Set aside time each week to meal plan together. Aim to include a source of protein, high-fibre grain or starch and vegetables or fruit in each of your meals.

    When providing a new food, encourage your child to explore it. What does it look, smell or feel like? Allowing your child to explore a new food helps build familiarity and helps them to feel more comfortable when eating it.

    2. Allow your child to respond to their hunger and fullness cues
    As a parent, it is your job to determine what is offered at meals, where and when. It is your child’s job to decide whether they will eat the food provided and how much.
    Just like we need to practice when learning to ride a bike, we also need to practice identifying and responding to our body’s hunger and fullness cues. Allowing your child to identify how their body feels when it is hungry and full will make them feel secure in their ability to guide their dietary intake.

    3. Provide variety
    Provide various types of foods and colours of foods at mealtimes. Even if you think your child will not be willing to eat a food, still offer it to them. It can take 20 or more times of trying a food before they determine if they like it or not!

    Offer a selection of whole grains, protein sources and different coloured vegetables and fruit. By providing a variety, you are not only offering different types of vitamins, minerals and nutrients but also allowing your child to develop a positive relationship with eating a mixed diet.

    4. Make mealtimes fun
    Sometimes mealtimes can feel like a place of stress, conflict, and frustration. However, mealtimes can provide an opportunity for you and your child to express creativity and connect through a love of food. Try some fun mealtime ideas to help you and your child bond (rather than clash) at mealtimes.

    • Take a trip around the world: Try planning “themed cuisine nights” where you taste sensations from different cuisines.
    • Make a rainbow: Try incorporating all the colours of the rainbow in a meal or snack.
    • Have a chef competition: Have each family member prepare a snack and have a taste-test competition.
    • Celebrate your roots: Invite a grandparent to teach the family how to prepare a dish from your traditional cuisine.

    Raising children with a healthy relationship with food and their bodies can be challenging. However, continue to be creative, curious, and compassionate with your child and yourself as you navigate mealtimes, food, and nutrition together.

    About Jennifer Lamont

    Jennifer completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Food in Nutrition at Ryerson University and her dietetic internship at St. Michael’s Hospital. She has experience working in both in-patient hospital settings and outpatient primary care with patients of all ages. She is a passionate Registered Dietitian who believes that food connects us to our bodies and others.