Family meals and healthy eating
You are your child’s most important role model. Your child learns from you and will want to do what you do. So if you want your toddler to eat well, it’s a good idea to let them see you eating well yourself.
Family meals are great times for you to do this. You can model healthy eating by making sure your family meals have plenty of vegetables, plus a wide variety of foods from the other main food groups.
If you help your toddler develop healthy eating habits like enjoying vegetables and eating breakfast, it sets up healthy habits for life. This is important as your child gets older and wants to try foods that their friends (and children on advertisements) are eating.
Toddler not eating? Try not to worry about what your toddler eats – or doesn’t eat! – in one meal or even in a day. Children’s appetites go up and down all the time. If you look at what your toddler eats over a week or more, you’ll probably see they’re eating what they need. If you’re worried about your child’s eating habits, talk to your GP, your child and family health nurse or a dietitian.
Getting children interested in food
Family meals can help if you have a fussy eater in the family. Watching parents and older siblings eating different kinds of healthy foods at family meals can encourage your toddler to try different foods too.
If you get your toddler involved in planning and cooking healthy family meals, they’re likely to feel involved and proud of what they’ve done. This makes them more likely to eat what you’ve prepared together.
When children help to prepare family meals, they also learn a lot about food and might appreciate it more.
Family meals, routines and values
When you eat together as a family whenever you can, it helps your toddler learn about some of the things your family values. For example, some people use family meals as a regular chance to sit together and catch up on each other’s news. In this way, family meals can strengthen your family relationships and your child’s sense of belonging.
If mealtimes are an enjoyable part of your daily routine, when the family chats around the table, your child will look forward to meals, enjoy being there and find eating a happy and relaxing experience too.
Setting aside regular times for family meals also helps get your child into an eating routine. A routine can help if your child sometimes gets distracted or is tired at the end of the day and less interested in the evening meal.
Also, an eating routine that’s based on 3 healthy meals and a couple of healthy snacks can help you and your child avoid too much unhealthy snacking between meals throughout the day.
If table manners are important to you, family meals together are a chance to show your child how to use table manners. You can also point out why table manners are good. For example, you could say, ‘It’s much easier to hear what you’re saying when you don’t have food in your mouth!’ But most children don’t grasp the finer points of table manners until they’re around 5 years old, so try not to expect too much.
It’s best to turn off the TV and other screens during family meals. This stops your family from being distracted and helps your toddler to focus on eating and listening to their appetite.
Sitting while eating is important to prevent choking. If toddlers walk around or play while they’re eating, they stop concentrating on what’s in their mouths. If you all sit down together to eat at family meals, it can encourage your toddler to sit down too.