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Preventive Care
Children's Health

How to Cultivate Healthy Eating Habits in Children

09 November 2023 · 5 mins read


Cultivating healthy eating habits in children can set them up for a lifetime of good physical and mental health. Read for some excellent tips.

We all need food to survive. However, the type of food we eat determines the quality of life we lead. Healthy eating habits should, therefore, start right from childhood.

Proper nutrition plays a crucial role in the growth and development of children. Teaching your little ones about healthy eating habits from a young age sets them up for a lifetime of healthy choices.

In today's world, where fast and processed foods are readily available, it is even more essential to teach children about the importance of eating a balanced diet with all the necessary nutrients.

What are the most common eating challenges with children?

The most common eating challenges with children include:

  1. Restrictive or selective eating.

    Selective or restrictive eating is a condition in which the child avoids food with specific sensory characteristics such as smell, taste, texture, colour, etc. This could lead to nutritional deficiencies, weight loss and other health problems in some children.

  2. Unhealthy food habits and overeating.

    This is a common issue faced by parents. Children either show a strong preference for junk food or may simply binge eat all the time. As a result, the child may be reluctant to eat fruits and vegetables and will have an affinity towards junk food.

What are the benefits of healthy eating for children?

Here are some advantages of healthy eating habits for children:

  • Supports their brain development.
  • Supports healthy growth.
  • Increases their immunity.
  • Strengthens their bones.
  • Supports their muscles.
  • Improves the functioning of their digestive system.
  • Keeps their skin, teeth, and eyes healthy.
  • Helps them to maintain a healthy weight.

Why is it important to teach children about healthy eating?

Teaching children about healthy eating is essential for several reasons, including:

  1. Encouraging behavioural modification to make a lifelong healthy choice.

    Studies have shown that it takes more than 20 exposures to a specific food for a child to acquire the taste of it. This means if your child dislikes a specific healthy food, do not give up.

    Once taught, children's eating habits often stay with them throughout their lives. By teaching them about healthy eating, parents and educators can help them establish lifelong behaviours that will lead to a healthier lifestyle.

  2. Establishing good eating habits and building a healthy relationship with food.

    In most cases, parents label junk or unhealthy food as bad and others as good food. Instead of doing that, explaining the difference between bad versus good food can help the children to build a healthy relationship with food. It will, in turn, positively impact the food choices the child makes in the future.

  3. Promoting physical health.

    Eating a healthy diet is crucial for maintaining good health. Children who consume a balanced and nutritious diet are more likely to grow healthy. In addition, it also helps to prevent future health issues like obesity, diabetes, etc.

  4. Supporting mental health.

    A healthy diet can also have positive effects on a child's mental health. For example, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables has been linked to lower rates of depression and anxiety in children.

  5. Better grades in the class.

    Some studies have found that nutrition affects children's behaviour and overall cognitive skills. To put it simply, simple habits like eating a hearty breakfast, having enough fruits and vegetables, increasing fibre intake, cutting on sugar, and drinking more water, can have tremendous positive impacts on a child’s academic performance.

How to cultivate healthy eating habits since young?

Following are some tips to get you started on teaching your children to eat healthily.

  1. Start early.

    Any habit introduced at a young age turns into a lifelong pattern. Thus, it is important to start teaching healthy eating habits to your child early in their life. This will help them choose their food wisely and maintain a healthy lifestyle as adults.

  2. Get them involved.

    Children will be happy to have a healthy meal if you involve them in meal planning, grocery shopping, food preparation, etc. It will also give you an excellent opportunity to educate your children regarding nutrition. This will give a sense of accomplishment to children, and they will be more inclined towards eating a healthy meal.

  3. Offer a variety of healthy food options.

    Provide your children with a range of nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products. This can help them develop a taste for different healthy foods and avoid developing a preference for unhealthy options.

    It is also a good opportunity to explain to your child the benefits of every food item in their plate.

  4. Avoid using unhealthy food as a reward.

    Many parents use unhealthy food as a reward for good behaviour. It is also common for them to withhold certain food items as a punishment. For example, parents may refuse to serve ice-cream if the children have not cleaned their rooms. On the contrary, they may treat them to a bag of chips as a reward for cleaning the room.

    Parents need to realise that giving certain foods as a reward can undermine the healthy eating habits you are trying to develop in your child. This might also lead to eating disorders in adulthood, where the person may reward himself with junk or unhealthy food.

  5. Avoid force-feeding them.

    The prime element to encourage a healthy diet is "choice". As we have mentioned above, exposing your children to different varieties of food is the first step for them to eventually like it.

    However, as we know, not all kids are the same. There will always be some picky eaters. In such a case, experiment with different healthy ingredients in the same food. However, ensure that you avoid force-feeding your child to finish everything on the plate, as it may lead to long-term behavioural problems.

  6. Be a role model.

    It is true that children are hugely influenced by their parents and environment. In their early childhood days, they observe their parents and try to mimic their behaviour.

    As a result, children who have parents with unhealthy eating habits may develop eating disorders later in life. To avoid this:

    • Make sure that you eat healthy while your children are around.
    • Read food labels and nutrients so that your child learns to do so as well.
    • Appreciate your child when they choose healthy food for themselves.
  7. Teach them to read nutrition labels.

    Understanding the nutrition label helps the children to know what is contained in their food and allows them to make the right choices. Unlike adults, children may not be able to interpret nutrition labels fully. As a parent or a caregiver, you can help by simplifying the list and assisting your child in identifying the essential ingredients.

  8. Have regular family meals.

    In modern-day busy lives, sharing a meal allows you to catch up with your children. This also serves as a beautiful opportunity for you to introduce your little ones to new foods and to be their role models in healthy eating.

    Make sure to keep the mealtime fun and conversational while avoiding any form of lecturing or arguing. You could also ask your children to invite their friends for a meal.

  9. Encourage sufficient water intake.

    Unlike adults, children are more physically active. This means they need to stay hydrated all through the day. Teaching your children the importance of drinking water can motivate them to consume more. However, it is equally important to teach them that sugary drinks and sodas and not a healthy substitute for water.

    Here are some of the strategies to motivate your child to drink more water:

    • While eating out, choose water instead of beverages.
    • Carry a water bottle when you take your child outside, especially in the car.
    • Buy small water bottles which are easier for the children to carry.
    • Add flavours to your child's drinking water, such as oranges, berries etc.

Make an appointment at Pantai Hospitals

A balanced and nutritious diet that includes a variety of healthy foods can promote physical and mental health, support growth and development, and prevent chronic health conditions.

Teaching children about healthy eating is a vital step towards promoting a healthy lifestyle and preventing chronic health issues. By providing children with knowledge to make informed decisions about their food, parents and caregivers can help them establish good eating habits that will benefit them throughout their lives.

Get in touch with us to book an appointment with a Paediatrician for a consultation at your nearest Pantai Hospital.

Pantai Hospitals have been accredited by the Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) for its commitment to patient safety and service quality.

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