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Nutritional Health|11 March 2022

Key to get your child into healthy eating habits

Written by Rasika Thakur Parab
H.O.D. The Nutrition Therapy Department at Fortis Mulund with more than 11 years of experience in dietetics and clinical nutrition | Post Graduate in Dietetics, Healthcare Operations Management.

We all know the importance of good nutrition, especially when it involves children. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is defined as the intake of an adequate, well-balanced diet to support the body’s dietary/energy needs. In other words, it is the cornerstone for good health throughout life.

Given the pressures and challenges of modern life, busy parents often struggle to balance work and family life. A majority of them usually fret whether they are feeding their children right and if it’s enough. Young ones need the right amount of nutrition to grow. If your kid is into sports or dance or any activity that involves burning off the calories, you have to ensure that they are adequately replenished.

Parents can regulate what, when and where children eat, but not how much. Multiple studies have repeatedly shown that how children eat is just as important as what they eat. Based on existing evidence from epidemiologic and intervention research, one of the leading institutes working towards nurturing healthy eating practices among children, has identified four key themes that encourage and support healthy eating practices.

Positive parental feeding – Adopting certain practices and habits that allow children to make their own food choices, encourage them to self-limit their portion sizes and generally influence their dietary intake.

Eating together – Eating together provides a context in which children can implicitly learn about healthy eating through mealtime conversations and the emotional tone of the mealtime.

Healthy home food environment – Creating an environment that encourages child competence in terms of regular mealtimes and ensures parents make healthy food accessible at all times.

Pleasure of eating – Associating the child’s healthy eating with pleasure through repeated exposure to various foods and tastes, helping them enjoy sociable mealtimes, and encouraging them to eat well. 

As long as parents offer a selection of healthy foods to the kids, they will eventually choose a healthy balanced diet over time. But being aware of what those foods are and when to serve them are the critical lessons most parents need to learn.

Here are a few hacks that can help your child follow a healthy and balanced diet:

Add variety – Offer your child a diet that is nutritionally adequate and has a lot of variety. Include seasonal fruits and vegetables

Be mindful of the calories – Try and base your child’s caloric intake on their growth rate, activity level and body fat. Aim to have 55% of your child’s caloric intake from complex carbohydrates such as whole grains like rice, wheat, millets and starchy foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains. Keep total fat intake to a minimal 10%. Provide various sources of proteins (15% of total calories) like milk and milk products, pulses and legumes, meat, fish and poultry products.  

Read more about benefits of milk as a staple in a child’s diet


Lead by example
— Children learn and imitate behaviours by watching and listening to others. Offering them the healthiest foods will be useless, unless they see their parents and siblings eating the same foods.

Are they getting enough? – While you ensure your child is eating the same food as you, their portion size should be smaller. Ideally serve one-fourth to one-third of the adult portion size. 

Stick to a routine – Have a fixed mealtime every day and ensure all the family members sit together for meals at least twice, maybe breakfast and dinner. Avoid snacking between meals.

Avoid screen time during meals — The physical and social environment your kids eat in can significantly shape their eating patterns. Parents should hold screen-free family meals as often as possible to provide an opportunity for meaningful social interactions between parents and children.

Encourage kids’ participation while preparing meals — While cooking or even preparing the menus, ask them to help around, get ingredients, wash vegetables, or set the table. They will love to eat the food they have helped to prepare.

Introduce new foods tactfully — Be patient while serving something entirely new for your kids. First, pair it with their favourite foods. Then, keep serving these healthy foods until they naturally become a part of their diet.

Disguise their food — Play hide and seek with the food they love by sneaking in a healthy alternative. E.g., use sweet potato instead of potatoes to make parathas or french fries.


References:

  • Bauer et al., 2012 K.W. Bauer, M.O. Hearst, K. Escoto, J.M. Berge, D. Neumark-Sztainer
  • Parental employment and work-family stress: Associations with family food environments
  • Social Science & Medicine, 75 (2012), pp. 496-504
  • Marty et al., 2018 L. Marty, S. Chambaron, S. Nicklaus, S. Monnery-Patris
  • Learned pleasure from eating: An opportunity to promote healthy eating in children?
  • Appetite, 120 (2018), pp. 265-274
  • Hughes et al., 2011 S.O. Hughes, T.G. Power, M.A. Papaioannou, M.B. Cross, T.A. Nicklas, S.K. Hall, et al.
  • Emotional climate, feeding practices, and feeding styles: An observational analysis of the dinner meal in head start families
  • International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 8 (2011), pp. 60-71
  • Borzekowski and Robinson, 2001 D.L. Borzekowski, T.N. Robinson
  • The 30-second effect: An experiment revealing the impact of television commercials on food preferences of preschoolers
  • Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 101 (2001), pp. 42-46
  • Briefel et al., 2009 R.R. Briefel, A. Wilson, P.M. Gleason
  • Consumption of low-nutrient, energy-dense foods and beverages at school, home, and other locations among school lunch participants and nonparticipants
  • Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109 (2009), pp. S79-S90

The views expressed are that of the expert alone.