As a parent, it can be tough getting your kids to eat well and get into good eating habits. Of course, you have their best interests at heart but more often than not, your kids’ minds are more likely preoccupied with the latest toy rather than the ingredient list on the back of the packaging.

However, all hope is not lost – demonstrate to your children that their health matters and is in their control, whilst trying to set the best example by emulating healthy eating behavior yourself.

So how can you try and bring out the best habits in your children? Fear not, it isn’t an expository essay, far from it. This simple guide of five tips should have your kids eating healthy throughout their most valuable years.

1. Have a Decent Breakfast Meal

Just because it’s the first meal of the day and you may be feeling stressed, running around in a frantic hurry to get the kids to school on time, there’s no good reason the quality of this meal should be compromised. Getting your kids to eating breakfast every day will make them grow up to follow suit and this is important as in fact breakfast is arguably the most important meal of the day.

If you’re in a hurry, get up a few minutes earlier to make sure that breakfast is just as enjoyable a meal as any. The good thing about breakfast food is that often, it is the healthiest and easiest to prepare, such as cereal or porridge. Get your children involved by letting them customize their breakfast choices and make them feel inspired and in control, for instance, by getting them to pick from a choice of porridge toppings.

2. Get Your Kids Involved

Healthy Eating Habits

Children often want to feel as though they are understood, validated, and appreciated, so what better way to show them this than by involving them in the steps of food preparation. Of course, we’re not talking about handing your preschool son a meat cleaver to help hack up some poultry, but there are a lot of steps that your kids can get involved in. No matter how big or how small the task, if a child can feel as though they’re contributing, this will help them feel validated and better yet, it will help them learn how to cook. The best step to healthy eating is healthy education and what better way to teach a child about what to eat than by teaching them what they can cook.

As you’re involving your child, try and incorporate education about what they’re doing and the foods they’re dealing with. Don’t forgo the perfect opportunity to teach them about nutrition and always praise them, however, small the task to provide them with a feeling of accomplishment. If you find that your child is a fussy eater and a bit too picky, involving them in cooking can often make them more willing to try new food if they know that they’ve prepared it themselves.

3. Discourage TV Dinners

So what’s wrong with eating in front of the TV you may ask. Ask yourself, are your children’s minds preoccupied with the food they’re eating or the TV? It’s tempting to let the TV act as a moderator of moods and a way to soothe and unwind, especially when you and the kids are tired, but many benefits are at stake here. If children aren’t paying attention to what they’re eating, they’re less likely to notice how much they’re eating and so they’ll tend to eat more, getting overweight. Don’t forget that part of healthy eating is having a natural appetite, so you’ll want to encourage this in your children. Numerous studies have actually linked obesity to dining in front of the TV.

The fact that your attention is occupied with the TV will also take a lot of the satisfaction away from the food you’re eating. If your kids aren’t mindful about what they’re shoveling down, they won’t care about the food they eat and, of course, you want your kids to care.

4. Don’t Punish or Reward Your Children with Food

It may seem like a good idea to reward your child for the good they do with the food they enjoy or to punish them by forbidding certain food or even a whole meal altogether, but research has shown that this is not the best strategy. Refusing a meal can make your kid worried that they won’t get enough food and as a result, they will worry about going hungry and so will try and eat whatever they can when they have the chance, however good or bad the food is.

In a similar way, when parents reward good behaviour with highly popular foods for children such as sweets, children can be falsely misled that these food groups are more valuable than others, for instance, telling your children that they can have a nice dessert if they eat all their carrots gives them the wrong message about vegetables.

5. Bring the Joy

Your children should look forward to eating a meal, not resent it. If children can have a positive outlook on mealtimes, then they can become more interested in eating, which will increase their curiosity in food. It’s a great idea to create a pleasant atmosphere around mealtimes with conversation and a positive focus, free from arguments – after all, why shouldn’t a mealtime be a great opportunity to relax?

If mealtimes are unfriendly, this may cause children to eat too fast in order to get the experience over with, leading to improper absorption of nutritional content. An unpleasant mealtime experience could also cause children to associate eating with anxiety which could potentially lead to eating disorders further down the line.

Remember that “monkey see, monkey do” so what would you like your child to do? It’s largely down to you to give your children the best opportunities you can, so be sure to set a good example. A child’s brain is like a sponge which will soak up both good and bad habits, so make sure you reinforce good habits by emulating them yourself. Teach your children good habits from the very start.