This is a question which many parents ask and there is no general answers - but there are a few ways how you can help your children to set up healthy habits.
Before we start to explain these further, please keep in mind that it's very likely that your child will refuse the veggies you so lovingly prepared from time to time – that's normal. It is a also natural reaction to give children food they like, and to feel worried when they don’t eat the food in front of them. So don't be too hard on yourself!
Here are are 7 ways to establish healthy eating habits for your little one (and maybe for your whole family as well):
1. Start early: A baby’s eating habits often last a lifetime and this is a great reason get your little one used to healthy food choices early on. Listen to your baby’s cues of hunger and satiety and you will help her to keep her inborn sense of when and how much she wants to eat. Offering a variety of vegetables and (to a smaller amount) fruit will get your child used to taste and texture and all these healthy food choices will not only appear normal to her but also yummy.
2. Embrace the veg face: Babies’ faces show an inborn reaction to bitter tastes. The crunch their face as if they just bit into a slice of lemon. Researchers have found out that this facial reaction goes away when babies try the same taste repeatedly. If your little one makes a funny face when you try broccoli for the first time, look out for this reaction. It will be great to observe how it vanishes over time.
3. Be persistent: Don’t give up when your baby doesn’t accept a new taste the first time. It can take between 10 to 15 tries until your little one comes to like the broccoli you steamed for her. If she didn’t want to try it the first time, try again after a few days. You will love the feeling when she starts devouring it after a few tries!
4. Have family meals: Babies and toddlers learn new things by imitating others. Their biggest role models are their parents! If they watch you enjoy healthy food choices, they will want to try them as well. The best way to show your children how much you enjoy the food yourself is during regular family meals. Having a baby brings a tremendous amount of change to your lives. In fact, it has been shown that mothers often change their eating habits to the better during pregnancy. Changing your own eating habits for your baby might be the best reason to do it.
5. Stock up on healthy foods: What you keep in your fridge and kitchen cupboard, influences your food choices. If you don’t keep crisps and chocolates at home, you are not tempted to eat them - or feed them to your child.
6. Watch your drinks: When your little one is thirsty, offer water or unsweetened teas. Fruit juices are high in fruit sugar and low in nutritional value. Any drinks high in sugar can damage your little one’s teeth.
7. Snacks can be healthy and yummy: Snacks should be small meals to satisfy your baby’s appetite. Make sure the portion size is adequate so your little one is hungry again for the main meal. Try healthy snack options, such as steamed broccoli florets, cheese sticks or whole fat plain yogurt. Healthy dips such as homemade hummus or almond butter can be great fun for older babies, too, as they can dip food or their fingers into them.
The good thing about eating habits is that they are just habits. And habits can not only be changed, but taught from the very beginning. Babies, who got used to these habits from early on, will very likely stick to them during adulthood. This helps them to keep a healthy weight and lifestyle. But let's keep it real: Life can get messy and just as much as we enjoy some chocolate or cake once in a while, so will your little one. It is perfectly normal and ok to break the rules from time to time. Just think that every small effort will have a big impact on your little one, so keep trying but don’t be too tough on yourself.