Encouraging healthy food options early
Your child’s beliefs and attitudes about food, as well as her eating habits, will start at home and very early in life.
You can set the scene for healthy food choices by providing a wide range of nutritious foods at home. You can also take your child to help you with the food shopping and talk about different foods and their role in your family’s health and wellbeing.
Right from the early years, your child will enjoy helping to choose family meals. As your child gets older, he’ll also like having some input into what foods go in his lunch or snack box. Eventually, your child will be able to make his own lunch and snacks for school, using the different healthy options you’ve chosen together for the family fridge and pantry.
Letting your child have a say on family food gives her great practice in making good choices, which will come in handy when she’s away from home.
Making healthy food choices away from home
Your child or family might have an active social life, with lots of eating away from home and regular access to ‘sometimes’ foods. Your child might also want to buy snacks and lunches from the school canteen or tuckshop. Older children often like to stop off for a snack or drink on their way home from school too.
These are all great opportunities for your child to practise choosing good food, but they’re also times when your child might be tempted by any ‘sometimes’ foods on offer. Giving your child some guidance and information about nutrition can help him make good choices in these situations.
Sometimes foods contain large amounts of fat, salt and sugar. They might be things like party foods – ice-cream, chocolate, potato chips and fizzy drinks. Striking a balance with sometimes foods is key. You can help your child take a balanced approach by:
- avoiding labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’
- not making a big deal about how tasty sometimes foods are
- trying not to use sometimes foods as a bribe or reward for good behaviour
- trying not to limit sometimes foods so much that they’re extra exciting – and a bit naughty – in your child’s eyes.
Making healthy choices when eating out
Eating out in restaurants and takeaway outlets often means eating foods that are higher in fat and sugar than you’d have at home. A balanced approach can help your child make healthier food choices in these situations.
When you eat out together, you can encourage your child to think about the foods she’s ordering. You might like to guide your child through different menu options and encourage balance. For example, if your child wants hot chips, she could choose grilled meat or fish to go with them, and make sure her meal includes salad or vegetables.
Portion sizes are another thing to watch when you’re eating out – they’re often much larger than your child would eat at home. Even though you’re eating out, your child doesn’t have to finish everything on the plate.
If you eat out often, try to go for healthier options and smaller serves.
Children’s meal options are often fried and include no salad or vegetables. You could try sharing a meal from the adult menu instead.
Teenagers eating out
As your child moves into adolescence, his growing independence means he’ll probably eat out more often with his friends. Because it’s cheap, easy or popular, teenagers often choose food outlets that don’t have a lot of healthy options.
You can help your child find ways to make healthier choices while still joining in on the fun. For example, when she’s out with friends, she could suggest places with healthier options, make better choices from the foods that are available, and avoid sweet drinks such as soft drinks, juice, shakes and slushies. These tactics can be especially useful if your child has any special diet needs.
Quick and easy meals
Everyone enjoys a meal out and a night off from cooking. But you might find yourself choosing takeaway because you feel like you don’t have enough time or energy to cook. If this sounds like your situation, you do have other options. You can make quick, healthy meals at home in the time it takes to order and collect a takeaway.
For example, you and your child could make a pizza together, using pita bread topped with tomato, vegetables and low-fat cheese. A quick tuna and vegetable pasta is another idea. That way you can save sometimes foods for special occasions.
Kids and sometimes food
This short video features mums and dads talking about sometimes food, junk food and children. These parents also share strategies for making a healthy diet part of everyday life.
Some say that what works for them is teaching balance, rather than denying their children snacks altogether. They also suggest keeping junk food out of the home if you don’t want your children to eat it.