Helping children develop a positive relationship with food

For many parents and caregivers, mealtimes with children can often be a battle of wills – with neither side usually winning!

Ensuring your child eats a balanced diet often takes more effort than just serving up three square meals a day. Many children have very firm ideas about what they will and won’t eat, causing parents to worry about their child’s nutrition.

Here’s our top tips to help your kids develop a healthy attitude towards food:

1. Get children involved

Get your child to help with the supermarket shopping – ask them to pick the freshest fruit or choose a flavour of yoghurt.

Ask them to help prepare dinner with you, this can be as simple as measuring ingredients or washing vegetables. Older children can take responsibility for planning a family meal once a week and taking their turn being chief chef in the kitchen.

2. Make dinner time a priority

Busy schedules can make for busy evenings but try and prioritise family meals together at the table – even if its only a few times every week. Dinner time is a great time for everyone to check in with each other and share stories about their day.

3. Lead by example

Children are experts at watching and learning from adults. If they see you enjoying a balanced diet it can have a good influence on their attitude to food.

4. Plant some seeds

Many children are fascinated watching seeds grow into plants. You don’t need a large garden to grow a selection of vegetables and herbs – even a few pots on your windowsill will work. Even if some of them don’t survive, your child is learning a great lesson about how food gets from the garden to the table.

5. Keep offering 

Encourage your child to taste a wide variety of different foods. It can take a few attempts for them to get used to new flavours and textures, so don't be surprised if they don't like it at first. You can't force your child to eat but by encouraging them to be adventurous they may one day surprise you by eating – and enjoying – a previously unloved vegetable or fruit.

6. Talk to them about how food makes them feel

Maybe your child has eaten a whole packet of lollies and now feels sick? They’ve learnt a good lesson about how food makes them feel! Talk with your child about how their body needs certain foods, such as fruits, vegetables and protein to grow well and how other food can leave you feeling tired and with no energy to play.

7. Try a theme night

If your child is reluctant to try new food, organise a theme night where everything you serve is from one country, for example, tacos and burritos for a Mexican inspired fiesta. If your child is older, get them to find out a few fun facts about the country or local food to share during dinner. Make mealtimes fun!

8. Enjoy a treat 

Just like most adults, children usually enjoy a ‘treat’, such as an ice cream, chocolate or a piece of cake. The occasional treat, as part of a balanced diet, can help your child learn foods are not always ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but it’s more about how much or how many times a week we eat certain foods that make them ‘unhealthy’ for us.

Learn more

Being fussy about food SKIP: Tips for parents
Eating and drinking for children Health Navigator

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.