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Parent guide: promoting healthy eating in under 5s

Healthy Eating is so much more than just what’s served up on your little one’s plate. It’s about educating your child so that they have the confidence to make healthy choices.

As their primary caregiver (or one of), you’ll most likely have the biggest influence on your little one’s eating habits. Making it so important to teach them healthy ones early on.

As a quick reference: because of their small tummies, children should be offered 3 meals a day, with at least 2 snacks in between to make sure they’re getting all the nutrition they require to grow.

But why are we suggesting you introduce healthy eating habits so early?

It’s never too early to start teaching healthy habits, including ones around eating!

Did you know 20% of under 5s in the UK are overweight?! This number increases as children move through primary school.

So in summary - the earlier you can introduce good eating habits, the better.

The aim isn’t to just give your little one healthy food but to actually encourage them to make their own healthy choices so that a long-lasting habit is created.

A good start is replacing fatty foods like sweets and biscuits with healthy alternatives like fruit or rice cakes.

But here are some other top tips to promote healthy eating in Early Years!

  • Show them where food comes from

Go fruit of veg picking, grow your own if you have an outdoor space, or take a trip to a dairy farm.

Show your child where their food comes from so that they understand the importance of having a healthy and sustainable approach toward food.

  • Change up snack time

Make snack time fun! If they have a good time whilst eating healthy foods, they will learn to associate healthy food with feeling happy.

You can: give food silly names, play with your food (e.g. turn an apple into a car, using grapes as wheels), and chat about topics they’re interested in.

  • Freedom to choose

Offer your little one options. For instance, start off with a base like pasta or rice and let your child decide what else they want with it – give them a few options of healthy sauces, cheese, sweetcorn etc.

This way, they can try new things, develop preferences, and have the confidence to make healthy choices themselves.

  • Get them involved

Children become more invested in healthy eating when they’re involved in the process.

Consider getting them involved in the cooking process - whether that’s peeling a carrot, planning what to eat or just serving themselves. Any involvement will help them better understand the importance of making healthy choices.

Click here for our guide for our all you need to know guide to cooking with your little one!

  • Be a role model

We say this every time, but children are like sponges!

They will absorb and reflect the behaviours and habits you show them. So, it’s important to ensure you are a positive role model for them, not just when it comes to healthy eating but in everything!

  • All about natural sugars

Young children are particularly vulnerable to tooth decay because their enamel is weaker than that of adult teeth. Tooth Decay is typically caused by an excess of sugary foods and drinks.

Try natural sugars for snacks and treats instead! We recommend desserts with fruit and dairy to reduce your little one’s intake of added sugars.

  • All about staying hydrated

The government recommends that children drink only milk and water (between 1.1L – 1.3L per day).

But that’s a lot of flavourless water for your little one to have. Try adding fruit or veg bits into the water to give it more flavour. This can encourage your child to drink more whilst adding in additional nutrients.

And as an occasional treat why not make your own smoothies or juices? It’s a fun and yummy activity!

  • Stay patient and persistent

Lots of young children can be quite fussy so don’t expect your little one to try lots of new foods straight away.

But stay persistent and patient – research shows children need to taste a new food at least 3 times before they fully make up their mind on whether they like it or not.

  • Don’t force it

Finally, don’t expect an overnight transformation. Focus on one approach at a time, giving your little one plenty of opportunities to learn about the importance of healthy eating habits.

The aim is to establish healthy eating as part of the regular routine, rather than it being seen as a rule.

Next, why not check out our guide all about healthy eating by clicking here.


Thanks for reading!

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