Healthy eating should be encouraged from the day you start to wean your baby onto solids. However, as your child grows older you may find eating and meal times a little tricky as they start to assert their independence over what they want to eat and when.
Helping your child to learn healthy eating habits can be fun and will help them gain confidence with new foods in time for starting school.
Your child is more likely to eat snacks they helped to make.
Pre-schoolers love to be creative; colourful fruits, supervised chopping of vegetables or using two plates to get your child to choose between healthy and unhealthy foods, are all fun ways to help them to choose healthier options.
Seven healthy snack ideas
With a little guidance and supervision, here are seven healthy snacks your pre-schooler can make.
- Sliced bananas
- Apple slices and peanut butter
- Mini cucumber sandwiches
- Vegetables and a dip
- Rainbow fruit skewers
- Fruit juice ice pops
- Fruit pizza
Fun activities to encourage healthy eating
More fun activities to get your children considering if their snacks are healthy or not can be found on the NHS Change 4 Life website.
Fun food scanner app
A food scanner app is available for download from the Change 4 Life website, allowing you and your child to use a phone, under parental supervision, to scan the packaging of the food in your kitchen cupboards.
The scanner reveals a traffic light system of how much sugar is in the foods and if it's healthy or not, encouraging healthy choices.
Be a role model
Choose healthier options yourself; this will reinforce what is a healthy choice and encourage a healthy lifestyle.
Reducing the amount of sugary snacks in your household can help to reduce the temptation to choose unhealthy snacks.
Healthy and safe eating with your toddler
Mealtimes are the perfect chance to have some quality time together. They can be a great time to support your pre-schoolers social skills and enhance their speech by chatting about your days.
Make mealtimes relaxed, but have limitations on television and keep tablets and toys away from the table to allow for some family time. Distractions can sometimes lead to your child not recognising when they're full and lead to overeating as they get older.
Use the three s’s (sitting, slowly, sociably) to promote healthy and safe eating for your toddler.
- Scheduling mealtimes creates a healthy routine.
- It can be a good idea to schedule home mealtimes with nursery and carer meal times so your child is fed when they're hungry.
- A routine to mealtimes provides reassurance to your child that they have another chance to eat and it can provide structure to their day.
- If you’re a busy parent and don’t always have the time to cook fresh food on the day, preparing meals beforehand and safely storing and reheating them can ensure that you still schedule a healthy meal.
Demonstrate healthy eating
In order for your child to eat healthily you will need to demonstrate healthy eating to them through your own eating habits and routines.
Try to stick to one meal for the whole family. Use a family reward system, including parents receiving rewards for healthy eating, nice manners and sitting well.
Sipping juice or milk will fill your child’s tummy and make them want less of the healthy food you have prepared.
Snacks such as raisins are best offered at mealtimes as they can get stuck between teeth and contribute to tooth decay.
If your child is asking for snacks throughout the day, try distraction with a fun activity.
Involve your child in planning and preparing meals
At this age you can start to get them involved in the preparation of food:
- Getting them to help choose items when you are out shopping
- With supervision, help with setting the table and prepping certain elements of your meals (avoid sharp or hot items)
Eat with your child
Eating with your child or as a whole family can help to install healthy attitudes towards food, eating and nutrition. It's also a great time for family bonding.
- Create a positive atmosphere by smiling, chatting and showing interest in what everyone has been doing, rather than just concentrating on your child’s eating.
- When your child sees you eating and enjoying healthy food, they're more likely to try it and decide they like it.
- Praise children for trying a new food, even if they don’t eat very much of it.
- Try to encourage your child to eat independently using a knife, fork and spoon.
- Allow children to eat at their pace rather than rushing them to finish or urging them to hurry up.
Trust your child to eat what they need to
A child’s hunger can change from meal to meal, so it’s OK if they don’t eat much.
Simply and calmly ask, “Did you have enough to eat? We won’t be eating again until lunch”, then follow your child’s lead.
Making your child’s packed lunches
When making your child’s packed lunches it’s important to ensure they contribute to a healthy balanced diet.
Include a variety of foods including fruit, carbohydrates, dairy, protein and vegetables. Consider portion sizes.
Include a drink. Water is the healthiest option, milk and fruit juices can also be healthy substitutes. Always aim for sugar free drinks, as sugar can contribute to tooth decay.
How to make lunches appealing
If you include your child in making their lunches, they'll be more inclined to enjoy them.
Use sandwich cutters to create fun shapes or put their foods in containers with their favourite characters to make lunches appealing and inviting.
Leaving little notes from you to your child at lunch, with prompts to eat their lunch such as ‘your favourite snack to make you smile,' can brighten up their day.
Great ideas for your child's packed lunch
Some great ideas for healthy eating and packed lunches can be found at:
- Anaphylaxis campaign - supporting people at risk of severe allergies
- Food - a fact for life
- NHS - what to feed young children
- Strong 4 Life - healthy eating schedule: toddlers and pre-schoolers
- Henry - a healthy start for a brighter future
- VeryWell Family - 10 fun, healthy snacks for kids to make
- BBC Good Food - Snacks for kids recipes
- NHS Change 4 Life - Quick and easy snack ideas