By offering a wide variety of ingredients, flavours and textures, babies and children learn early to accept a wide variety of foods and to develop a healthy diet. The more variety you offer, the more your kids can expand their diet. But parents often fall in the trap of offering foods that are ‘child friendly’, which means less variety.
Good food is good for everyone
Children can mostly eat like adults. Sometimes we need to adjust certain foods for them, for example with early sensitivities, allergies, choking hazards or spicy foods. But, there is no need to dumb down food for children.
When kids eat differently from their parents’ healthy diet, they start believing that their food should be different. They aren’t exposed to a normal diet, and they can also become more intimidated by new foods. Sadly, many foods promoted as ‘child friendly’ are often less nutritious.
What about food that is not healthy for kids?
We sometimes exclude certain foods from our children’s diets because they are ‘not healthy for children’ – they may contain too much salt, sugar, fat or other nasties. With young babies and toddlers, we often limit or delay packaged, processed or junk foods.
What we sometimes forget is that if certain foods are unhealthy, then they are unhealthy for everyone, adults and children. I often remind my kids that when we are hungry, we need nutritious food. While they might enjoy treats, their hungry tummies and growing bodies aren’t asking for junk.
There is no ‘right age’ to eat more junk foods, and kids also need to learn about enjoying treats in moderation and making healthy food choices.
How to eat family foods
Nutritious family foods are always best. Children learn to eat from eating with their family, so when parents eat and offer a wide variety of healthy foods, it helps children learn to eat and enjoy those foods.
Here are some tips to offer foods that the whole family can enjoy:
- Parents choose the healthy food to offer (see the Division of Responsibility)
- Eat the same food, together. Kids do as we do.
- Avoid the kids’ menu in restaurants – it’s telling our kids that kids should eat differently than adults, and that kids should eat junk.
- Encourage your child to be adventurous, and don’t avoid offering foods because you think you child might not like them
- Avoid buying foods that are marketed at children, such as packaging with cartoons
- Ask your child to make food choices for the whole family – ask them for meal ideas and get them involved with choosing the menu and cooking for the family
Choose foods for the whole family to enjoy; there are no limits to what you can offer, and your kids will soon enjoy a wider variety of foods!