Right From The Start: How To Instill Healthy Eating Habits In Children

Dr. Junaid Jahangir Abbasi

3 min read

The first step to instilling healthy eating habits in children is to model these behaviours in yourself, starting at a young age. Most young children take on the eating habits of their parents and for parents who don’t eat healthy themselves, it can be a tremendous task to instil healthy eating habits in children.

According to experts, the most important aspect of healthy eating is portion control and cutting down on sugar and fat. For children, this is especially important as they need a more nutrient-rich diet for proper growth and development. Here are some tips to help control the intake of refined sugar and fat in children:

How to reduce sugar and fat intake

Introduce your children to non-sugary treats; pick a few days to indulge yourself and your children in desserts, instead of eating them every day. Teach your children that sugary foods are a treat instead of an expectation. Don’t allow children to have easy access to sugary food and treats. Sugary items and treats should not be consumed before meals to ensure that children don’t lose their appetite.

Portion sizes

Appropriate for height and weight portion sizes are not just for adults but also for children. Do some research regarding portion sizes, and moderate your children’s food portions accordingly. This goes even for healthy food choices; it will teach your children how to be moderate with the food.  

Find your children’s favorite food

If you identify what your children love to eat, then make it often in a variety of ways. Inculcating and praising their healthy eating choices will help them understand its importance and benefits. Moreover, you should focus on serving this favorite food in a variety of ways to help open more doors to healthy eating. For instance, if your child likes tomatoes, then try serving it differently: on top of pizzas, sandwiches, or as stir-fry etc.

On the other hand, if your children develop a dislike for a particularly healthy food, then try serving that in different forms as well. Serving food in a different guise should also help. More often than not, as the flavor becomes familiar, the dislike fades away.

Introduce your children to different flavors from an early age

Children who are more used to trying out different flavors are less likely to show aversion to new cuisines. As mentioned before, once the flavor of a new thing becomes familiar, children lose their dislike for it. It should also be a house rule that kids have to try a food at least three times before deciding that it is not for them.

To familiarize your children to different flavors, you can try introducing small changes to their diet from a young age. For instance, giving them cashew or almond butter instead of the tried and tested peanut butter. Not only would they be experimenting with their palette but they would also be gaining the nutritional benefits of different ingredients.

Grow the vegetable garden with them

Educating your children from a young age about health and nutrition is likely to make them more enthusiastic about eating healthy. Not just tell your children that sugar is bad for them, explain to them how it’s bad as well. At the same time, explaining the health benefits of, say, the antioxidants in the fruits will teach them how to combat the damage caused by the sugar consumed.

Growing a vegetable garden is another great way to ensure that your children care about their health and environment. Give a corner of your kitchen garden to your children, along with a packet of seeds, and let them invest their time in this fun activity. Lettuce, beans and peas are easier for children to grow as the time to harvest them are relatively short. 

This activity will also make them enthusiastic about eating something that they helped grow and bringing to the table. This is not only limited to growing a vegetable garden; it can also be applied to grocery shopping and let your children pick the vegetables they want to eat. Try going to the farmer’s markets and Sunday bazaars with your children and teach them about vegetables and their nutritional benefits.  

Try cooking with your child

If your children are old enough, having them aid in the kitchen and making something nutritious is a great way of ensuring they eat healthily. A salad dressing is a great option for young children; your children will be more likely to enjoy eating a salad they helped make. Skewering vegetables for the grill is another great kitchen activity for the children.

Cut down on drinks

Children are particularly fond of not only soda but juices as well. Both of these drinks are packed with refined sugar. Parents should be careful about allowing sodas and fruit juices into the house. If you have to get your children something healthy, then opt for fresh fruit juices or 100 percent fruit juices with no added sugar.

Opt for a varied and nutritious menu for yourself and your family to ensure your children grow up to be healthy; book an appointment with top nutritionists in Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT professional for your concerns.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Junaid Jahangir Abbasi - Author Dr. Junaid Jahangir is a pediatrician based in Islamabad. He has an MBBS, FCPS, and more than 7 years of work experience in managing and treating child health. For advice or consultation, please feel free to reach out to him through oladoc. Junaid Jahangir loves kids and has deep insights into some very common problems in Children. He believes that parents can benefit from these insights too. You can read some of his advice here.