By choosing and eating healthy food as a family from the time your child is very young, you help your child learn about making healthy food choices. This lays the groundwork for when your child is older and eating out or eating away from home without you.
Encouraging healthy food choices early
Your child’s beliefs and attitudes about food, as well as her eating habits, 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. Talking about different foods and their role in your family’s health and wellbeing helps your child understand about healthy choices.
You can also get your child involved in choosing healthy family food – for example, by letting him help with the shopping list and taking him along when you go food shopping.
As your child gets older, she’ll like having some input into what foods go in her lunch or snack box. Eventually, your child will be able to make her own lunch and snacks for school, using the different healthy options you’ve chosen together from the family fridge and pantry.
Letting your child have a say in family food gives him great practice in making good choices, which will come in handy when he’s older and eating out or away from home.
How do you get children to choose good food? These four short videos on healthy food choices
show how shopping for healthy food together and involving your child in preparing meals can help set up lifelong healthy eating habits from your child’s early years.
Making healthy choices when eating 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. 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. There are a couple of things you can do to help your child make healthy food choices in these situations:
- Try to strike a balance with sometimes foods.
- Be prepared when you or your children are out and about.
Strike a balance
‘Sometimes’ foods include chips, chocolates, lollies, cakes, pastries, muesli bars, soft drinks, juices and takeaway foods – basically anything that’s high in sugar, salt and/or fat, and low in nutrition.
You can help your child take a balanced approach to sometimes foods by:
- making sure she eats sometimes foods only occasionally and in small amounts
- trying not to label 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.
If you know you’re going to be out at a time when your child is likely to be hungry – for example, after school or sport – try to have options for quick healthy snacks on hand. For example, fruit, cheese or vegetable sticks are quick and easy, and a water bottle from home is cheaper and better than soft drink, sports drink or juice.
And if your child is going to be out without you at a time she often gets hungry, why not suggests she packs an extra piece of fruit or some yoghurt instead?
This way neither you nor your child will have to raid the vending machine, snack bar or fast food shop for unhealthy options – and you’ll both save money too!
Child care gives children a chance to eat with others and try new foods and tastes. If your child isn’t keen on the food at his child care setting, talk with his carers. By working together with child care staff, you can reinforce healthy food messages and eating for your child.
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’re eating 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.
Note that children’s meal options are often fried and include no salad or vegetables. You could try sharing a meal from the adult menu instead, or ordering a side of vegetables or salad for you and your children to share.
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.
Teenagers eating out
As your child moves into adolescence, his growing independence means he’ll probably eat out more often with his friends.
Teenagers often have their own money and start to make their own decisions about which foods they eat. And teenagers often choose food outlets that don’t have a lot of healthy options because these options are cheap, easy or popular.
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.
Video Nutrition and eating well for teenagers
In this short video, parents and teenagers talk about how they see nutrition and healthy eating, including school lunch boxes, takeaway food, and being vegetarian.
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. As long as you’ve got healthy ingredients in your fridge and pantry, 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.
If you do choose to have takeaway, go for a healthier option – for example, a low-fat salad roll instead of hot chips and a burger.
Video 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.