Top tips for feeding children
This article is written by Dr Emma Haycraft, BSc, PhD, FHEA, one of the creators of the Child Feeding Guide. The Child Feeding Guide was created by academic psychologists from Loughborough and Aston Universities in the UK (who are also mums) to share effective, credible information to promote healthy, happy mealtimes for children. You can access their free tips and tools for parents here.
As parents and caregivers, we know that we have an important role feeding children and we are often really keen to ensure that our little ones eat a healthy, balanced diet. Our children, however, may well have other ideas! You are probably familiar with your child refusing to eat something which they’d previously enjoyed and with food ending up uneaten, often on the floor or left festering in lunchboxes.
Most children go through a phase of fussy eating and this behaviour is totally normal. How this fussiness is managed can affect whether children grow out of it, or if it will continue as they get older, and this is why parents and caregivers are so important in helping children to develop healthy eating habits.
Researchers at Loughborough and Aston universities have been conducting research into children’s eating behaviours for over ten years. They are sharing their findings with parents and caregivers, to help families enjoy mealtimes.
Top tips for promoting healthy, happy mealtimes
- Offering children a variety of different tastes and textures when they are young will encourage them to enjoy a range of foods as they grow.
- Toddlers can struggle to eat large amounts of food at one mealtime. Three small meals and three small snacks spaced equally throughout the day often works best.
- Food is a necessity. It should NOT be used as a reward (e.g. for good behaviour or for eating another, lesser liked food), or taken away as a punishment.
- Restricting foods can make them unintentionally desirable. Keeping foods in the house that children can see but aren’t allowed to eat, such as crisps or biscuits, makes those foods more appealing. Children are then more likely to overeat such foods on other occasions (e.g., at parties, where they are unrestricted).
- If you must restrict, it’s better to restrict covertly. It’s harder to refuse a child when the temptation is in front of them. So, for example, avoid walking home past the sweet shop or McDonalds, and only keep healthy foods in your house, and you’ll avoid having to say “yes” or “no”, or bargaining.
- It can take 15-20 exposures before a child accepts a new taste. Introduce foods gradually, over time. The free exposure monitor can help you to keep track of how often a food has been offered. Encouraging children to touch, taste, lick or smell a food can all help the food to become more familiar, meaning children are then more likely to eat it.
- Do not force feed children or pressure them to eat more than they want to. The “clean your plate” mantra is a thing of the past and could teach children to ignore the natural signs of feeling full, which could contribute to them becoming overweight.
- Try to have at least some meals at the table each week and avoid giving children meals in front of the television as this can distract them from eating.
- Praise children for trying new foods and for exhibiting appropriate behaviour at the table.
- Children love to copy. If they see you enjoying your vegetables at the dinner table, they are likely to have a go themselves.
Find out more There are lots more tips and information about child feeding on their website (www.childfeedingguide.co.uk). You can also follow on Twitter or Facebook where you can ask us questions and find out more about feeding children.