Children and Healthy Nutrition: Five Tips for Parents

How parents can build a solid foundation of proper life-long eating habits for their children

UNICEF
Mother feeds her child with broccoli
UNICEF
05 November 2021

Your  relationship with food begins in early childhood. A child’s preferences are impacted by society and their home environment when it comes to food, but eating habits start in the family. . Parents  can lay a solid foundation for proper eating habits that will stay with their children throughout their lives.

It is important to realize that you will not always be there with your child. Until the age of one or two, you can control everything your baby eats, but the older your kid becomes, the more often they will eat outside their family environment: visiting their  grandma, attending  school, or hanging out with their  friends. For this reason, it is important not to forbid or protect your  child from eating certain foods. Instead, it’s better  to teach them to choose nutritious and healthy foods on their own when you are not around . How can you achieve it? By forming healthy eating habits in your  family. Here are five tips to help you do just that. 

 

1. Eat together

Try to gather the whole family around the table as often as possible by scheduling at least one meal together per  day. Pick dishes and foods that can be enjoyed by all family members, including children. Try providing your family with different  options: children usually like it when they can choose what to put on their plate. This doesn’t mean you have to cook multiple dishes, though. Options can be something as simple as an extra plate with veggies, berries or nuts. The food on your table should be colorful and attractive. 

Take your time with preparing dinners or weekend meals by  coming up with family traditions and sticking to  them. You can walk together, read books or play board games. 

 

2. Tell your child about what makes a  healthy eating plate

Explain how to structure meals to make sure they are nutritious and balanced: 

  • 40-50% veggies, fruits, greens, berries, root vegetables
  • 20-25% proteins — eggs, poultry, fish, offal, game, legumes, soy products. 
  • 25-30% — whole grain products: whole-grain rice, oatmeal, pearl barley, whole grain pasta, bread, crispbreads. 
  • 5-10% fats: seeds, nuts, unrefined oils.
  • You can also include 1-2 dairy items or their plant-based alternatives. Choose options without added sugar.

Tell your child that variety is one of the most important rules of having healthy nutrition. Explain that different foods contain different nutrients, so they  need to expand their  diet as much as possible. You can do this by alternating different foods from one food group in your menu. For example, choose not only cucumbers and tomatoes, but also pumpkin, carrots, celery, bell pepper, beets, mushrooms, corn or zucchini.

 

3. Choose quality products

Many health problems are linked to the fact that in today’s world, we often prefer processed foods to whole simple ones. When you shop, try to go for whole grains, fresh veggies, berries, and fruit, quality proteins and beans. Sausages and hot dogs, instant oatmeal, margarine-based pastries are not whole foods. 

Keep an eye on the  amount of sugar and salt in your  diet, and try to choose foods without added sugar and only a  moderate amount of salt. Make sure to read the labels — you need to understand the ingredients. 

Teach children these simple rules for choosing products and tell  them what to look for. If you take them grocery shopping with you a few times, they will soon be able to pick healthier options on their own. 

 

4. Cook and choose food together

Going grocery shopping or cooking breakfast and dinner together  is a great opportunity  to tell your child about different foods and  explain the principles of a  healthy eating plate. If you’ve never done  it before, your  child may not agree to help you cook an omelet or go shopping with you at first. Don’t be afraid to suggest it a second or third time. . Try different approaches: maybe  your child  will enjoy watching video recipes together and  trying to recreate them. They might also  enjoy reading a book about vegetables and fruit to find out how they end up on the table. 

 

5. Create a pleasant and friendly atmosphere at the table

Spending time at the table is not only about satisfying your hunger – it’s also a great opportunity for your  family to spend time together.. Try choosing conversation  topics that are  interesting for everyone and void difficult questions such as problems at school or work, a failed exam, or a missed lesson. Mealtime should be relaxing and pleasant for everyone. 

It is also a good time to discuss each other's culinary tastes when it comes to the dishes and foods that you put  on the table. If your child doesn’t like something, do not force them to eat it. It is better to ask what they would like to try instead. Come up with an option that will appeal to everyone, and suggest cooking it together. 

 

Here are some simple formulas to help you figure out which products to choose:

  • An apple is better than apple purée. Purée is better than juice. Juice is better than jam, and jam is better than an apple-flavored carbonated drink.
  • Whole pearl groats and oatmeal are better than rolled groats. Whole rolled groats are better than round rolled groats. Round grain is better than flour, and flour is better than granola with syrup.
  • Stewed beef is better fried in oil. Roasted meat, even with a crust, is better than hot dogs