Encouraging healthy eating habits in toddlers is crucial for their overall well-being and development. What a toddler eats can impact their behaviour and mental health, as well as their relationship with food in adolescence and adulthood.
By teaching them to make healthy food choices from an early age, you can set them up for a lifetime of good health.
In this guide, we will provide you with practical tips on encouraging children to eat healthily, as well as giving you ideas on healthy meals for kids.
Start with a Balanced Meal Plan
One of the best ways to encourage healthy eating habits in young children is to start with a balanced meal plan.
What does this mean? It means ensuring that each meal includes a variety of food groups, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
By providing a balanced meal, you are teaching children the importance of eating a variety of nutrients for their overall health.
Bellamy’s Organic suggest that for toddler, a balanced daily diet may look like this:
2.5 - 4 servings of vegetables and legumes;
1 - 1.5 servings of fruit;
4 servings of grains:
2 servings of meat, fish, eggs or nuts;
2 servings of milk, yoghurt, or cheese.
Try to introduce a new food type to your toddler every few weeks, more than likely it will take a number of attempts for them to try the food before they agree they actually like it.
Keep persevering with the new healthy food. They’ll surprise you one day when they eat it without the fuss!
Involve Children in Meal Preparation
Involving toddlers in meal preparation is an excellent way to get them excited about what they are going to eat.
This not only teaches them valuable cooking skills but also gives them a sense of ownership and pride in their food choices.
Allow children to help with tasks such as washing fruits and vegetables, stirring ingredients, and assembling their own plates. This hands-on approach can make mealtime more enjoyable and encourage children to try new healthy meals.
Everyone loves a pizza right?! How about creating your own pizzas with the children?
From mixing and rolling out the dough to adding their own toppings - creating homemade pizzas is a great example of how to involve children in meal preparation for healthy meals.
Here are a few more ideas for healthy meals for kids.
Offer a Variety of Healthy Snack Options
When it comes to healthy meals for kids, offering a variety of healthy snack options is key.
Instead of relying on processed snacks or sugary treats, provide a range of nutritious options that are both tasty and satisfying. This can include fresh fruits and vegetables, yoghurt, nuts, whole grain crackers, and homemade snacks like energy balls or granola bars.
It's sometimes too easy to reach for unhealthy snack options.
By having a selection of healthy snacks readily available, children are more likely to make nutritious choices and develop a preference for wholesome foods. You can also involve toddlers in creating these healthy snacks (see the above point).
Popcorn is a great alternative to crisps. And how about a homemade fruit lollipop rather than the sugary shop-bought one? Check out GoodHousekeeping for more healthy snack options for kids.
Make Healthy Eating Fun and Exciting
Teaching healthy eating habits should be fun and exciting for everyone.
We’ve looked at letting toddlers help with the meal and snack preparation. Another way to make healthy eating fun is by getting creative with presentations.
Use cookie cutters to shape fruits and vegetables into fun shapes, arrange food in colourful patterns, or create themed meals based on their favourite characters or interests. This can make mealtime more engaging and encourage children to try new foods.
Additionally, making trying new foods into games or challenges can make it exciting for toddlers to try something.
For example, you can have a "taste test" where children try different fruits or vegetables and rate them; or taste foods with their eyes closed in order to try to guess what it is. These activities can make healthy eating feel like a game and encourage children to explore new flavours and textures.
Be a Role Model for Healthy Eating Habits
One of the most effective ways to encourage healthy eating habits in toddlers is by being a role model yourself.
Children are more likely to adopt healthy habits if they see their parents or caregivers practising them. This means that you should also try eating healthy and make sure your children see you eating healthy food.
How many of us have eaten a chocolate bar with our heads in the cupboard hiding from the kids?!
Try to avoid negative comments about certain foods as this can create a negative association. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of healthy eating, such as how it gives you energy and makes you strong.
We’ve seen a great tip about placing a sticker of favourite children’s characters on the food to allude that those characters also eat this food.
As well as being a role model at mealtime, and involving toddlers in the meal prep, involving them in the food shopping is also a great way to keep them engaged and enthusiastic about choosing healthy foods.
Take them to the farmer's market or food stores and let them choose fruits, vegetables, and other healthy ingredients.
Creating a shopping list together at home and allowing the children to be in charge of the list during the food shop is another great tip. If the toddlers are too young to read, try drawing the food, printing out the pictures or saving pictures of the food you need on a smartphone/device.
Here at Lucky Beans Childcare, we take the opportunity to visit our local stores where children can experience buying fresh fruit and vegetables. We also ensure that all our meals and snacks provide a balanced source of nutrition.
Remember, healthy eating is not about perfection.
It's about finding a balance and enjoying a variety of nutritious foods. By being a positive role model and involving your children in the process, you can help them develop healthy eating habits that will benefit them throughout their lives.