Healthy eating habits for healthy kids

Children are curious little people. They’re not afraid to explore, be imaginative and learn about the world around them. Anyone who has spent time with young ones will be familiar with the question ‘but why?’ Kids have a lot of questions because they are hungry to learn.

One thing we can help them make sense of is the importance of a healthy diet. Teaching kids about healthy food and lifestyle choices will help them grow into healthy adults.

But in a society where junk food is heavily promoted and easy to buy, how do we do that? Be prepared, because it may require a decent sense of humour, creativity and adventure.

Here are eight ideas that will nourish the body and mind of both you and your children.

1. Be a role model
Lead by example and eat the way you want your children to eat. Kids may be more willing to try new foods if they see you eating them.

2. Explore the outdoors
Growing edible plants is a fun way of encouraging kids to taste and eat more fruit and vegetables. It also teaches them that providing care and nourishment for plants leads to optimal growth – just like with our bodies. Keep an eye out for school or community gardens in your area.

3. Tell stories
Tell children about what you, your parents or your grandparents used to eat. It will help them understand how the food environment has changed over time.

4. Answer all those questions, big and small
‘Why are carrots orange?’ ‘What happens to the food inside me?’ - Children are hungry for new information. Take time to find the answers; you’re bound to learn a thing or two yourself.

5. Listen to their tummies
Children are born with the ability to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full - something we adults often lose touch with. Encourage children to stay in tune with their natural hunger cues. Don’t use rewards or force or push a child to eat.

6. Ask for some helping hands
Get kids involved in the planning and preparation of meals. For younger children, this may be helping with the cooking or writing the shopping list. For older children, it could be organising a meal plan within a budget.

7. Make meal times fun
Sit, talk and eat around a table rather than on the run or in front of the TV. It helps us eat slowly, appreciate our meal and is a great time to share stories about each other’s day.

8. Save treats for special occasions
Sugary foods or drinks are best kept for celebrations or special occasions. Encourage a piece of fruit for something sweet after a meal. Remember, water is the best drink.

For children to get all the nutrients they need for growth and development, it’s important to provide three healthy meals a day (including breakfast) and a variety of foods from each of the four food groups. 

In a busy household, time is precious. The Heart Foundation’s Tick and Two Ticks help you make healthier food choices quickly and easily. Look out for the Tick to identify healthier products within that food category. Two Ticks will only be on core foods for a healthy diet - these are foods that should make up the bulk of your supermarket trolley.