Tips for Encouraging Healthy Eating Habits in Children

1. Take them shopping with you - this allows them to exert their independence and have choice over their food from an early age. This will also encourage them to become interested in foods and cooking. Young kids love to play grown-up - allow them to pick a new fruit or vegetable to try at home. Let them weigh their choice, bag it, and place it on the counter. Once home, let them help you prepare it for the family - children are more willing to try new foods if they have helped prepare and choose them. Slow down in the supermarket and turn shopping into a learning experience for children.

2. Guide your children's food choices rather than dictate them - have a wide variety of healthy foods available in the house. This will help your children learn how to make healthy food choices. Leave the unhealthy choices in the shop and save for treats only.

3. Encourage your children to eat slowly - they need to understand that it is not a race to finish their meal. Children, like adults, can detect hunger and fullness better when they eat slowly. Before offering a second helping or serving, ask your child to wait a few minutes to see if they are truly still hungry. This will give the brain time to register fullness.

4. If they don't like it the first time, don't give up - young children may need to be offered a new food 8 to 10 times before they will accept it, yet the majority of parents with fussy eaters give up offering a new food if the child has not accepted it after 2 or 3 attempts - so the message is PERSEVERE but don't pressurize.

5. Don't use food to punish or reward children - using food as a punishment may lead children to worry that they will not get enough food. For example, sending children to bed without any dinner may cause them to worry that they will go hungry. As a result, children may try to eat whenever they get a chance. Similarly, when foods, such as sweets, are used as a reward, children may assume that these foods are better or more valuable than other foods. For example, telling children that they will get dessert if they eat all of their vegetables sends the wrong message about vegetables.

6. They don't have to finish their plate - try to avoid telling your children to "take one more bite" or "clean your plate" when they're full. This trains them to think that they must finish their plate even when full, a habit that will continue into adulthood and could potentially cause overeating and weight gain. Children should be encouraged to eat healthy foods, but never forced. Let them decide if they are hungry.

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