Helping Children Develop Healthy Eating Habits

As children transition to the family diet, recommendations address not only food, but also the eating context. A variety of healthy foods promote diet quality, along with early and sustained food acceptance. Data gathered on infants and young children 6 to 23 months of age across 11 countries have demonstrated a positive association between dietary variety and nutritional status. Exposure to fruits and vegetables in infancy and toddlerhood have been associated with acceptance of these foods at later ages. Children’s eating patterns and food preferences are established early in life. When children refuse nutritious foods such as fruits or vegetables, mealtimes can become stressful or confrontational, and children may be denied both the nutrients they require and healthy, responsive interactions with caregivers. Caregivers who are inexperienced or stressed, and those who have poor eating habits themselves, may be most in need of assistance to facilitate healthy, nutritious mealtime behaviour with their children.


Problems associated with eating occur in 25% to 45% of all children, particularly when children are acquiring new skills and are challenged with new foods or mealtime expectations. For example, infancy and toddlerhood are characterised by bids for autonomy and independence as children strive to do things themselves. When these characteristics are applied to eating behaviours, children may be neophobic (hesitant to try new foods) and insist on a limited repertoire of foods, leading them to be described as picky eaters. Most eating problems are temporary and easily resolved with little or no intervention. However, eating problems that persist can undermine children’s growth, development, and relationships with their caregivers, leading to long-term health and developmental problems. Children with persistent eating problems whose caregivers do not seek professional advice until the problems become severe, may be at risk for growth or behaviour problems.


Eating patterns have developmental, family and environmental influences. As children become developmentally able to make the transition to family foods, their internal regulatory cues for hunger and satiety may be overridden by familial and cultural patterns. At the family level, children of caregivers who model healthy food intakes are likely to consume more fruits and vegetables than children of caregiver who do not, whereas children of caregivers who model less healthy, snack food intakes are likely to establish patterns of eating behaviours and food preferences that include excess amounts of fat and sugar. At the environmental level, children’s frequent exposure to fast-food and other restaurants has led to increased consumption of high-fat foods, such as chips, rather than more nutritious options, such as fruit and vegetables. In addition, caregivers may not realise that many commercial products marketed for children, such as sweetened drinks, may satisfy hunger or thirst, but provide minimal nutritional benefits.

How to help

  • Be a good role model – You don’t have to be perfect all the time, but if kids see you trying to eat right and getting physically active, they’ll take notice of your efforts. You’ll send a message that good health is important to your family.
  • Keep things positive – Kid’s don’t like to hear what they can’t do, tell them what they can do instead. Keep it fun and positive. Everyone likes to be praised for a job well done. Celebrate successes and help children and teens develop a good self-image.
  • Be realistic – Setting realistic goals and limits are key to adopting any new behavior. Small steps and gradual changes can make a big difference in your health over time, so start small and build up.
  • Limit TV, video game and computer time – These habits lead to a sedentary lifestyle and excessive snacking, which increase risks for obesity and cardiovascular disease. Limit screen time to 2 hours per day.
  • Encourage physical activities that they’ll really enjoy – Every child is unique. Let your child experiment with different activities until they find something that they really love doing. They’ll stick with it longer if they love it. check out these activities for kids.
  • Pick truly rewarding rewards – Don’t reward children with tv, video games, candy or snacks for a job well done. Find other ways to celebrate good behavior.
  • Make dinnertime a family time – When everyone sits down together to eat, there’s less chance of children eating the wrong foods or snacking too much. Get your kids involved in cooking and planning meals. Everyone develops good eating habits together and the quality time with the family will be an added bonus.
  • Make a game of reading food labels – The whole family will learn what’s good for their health and be more conscious of what they eat. It’s a habit that helps change behavior for a lifetime.

Leave it to the experts…

At Early Days Foods, we take pride in providing healthy children’s meals for nursery children throughout the island of Ireland, providing home quality meals. We are a specialised catering service which helps nurseries serve quality meals for their children 52-weeks a year, just like you would at home.

Early Days Foods is one of Ireland’s premier Nursery food providers, with an extensive menu. Your kids can enjoy a healthy range of quality meals just like home without the extensive costs of preparing the food in-house. Our mission is to make mealtimes easy and healthy, one nursery at a time. If you would like to speak to our experts or see how we as a company can help you, please contact us on: ROI: 042 942 4069 / NI: 028 4175 2500 or email: The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your paediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child’s condition.
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