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Mealtime: Tips for encouraging healthy eating

Here are some suggestions:

  • Establish a routine for meals and snacks - try to feed your child at times when he is alert, and not too tired to eat or cooperate.

  • Use a variety of foods from the four food groups - remember that children, like adults, have their own likes and dislikes, which may change over time. If your child will not eat certain foods (such as yellow vegetables) try to "hide them" in a soup or casserole.

  • Involve your child in the food preparation. For example, he can help to set the table, or pour and mix ingredients - your child will feel so proud of his participation, that he will be more likely to eat what he has helped to prepare.

  • Serve new foods alongside familiar foods - this encourages your child to enjoy eating a variety of foods and establish good manners.

  • Create a pleasant environment for your child at mealtime. Make sure she is comfortable (for example, young children will usually need a booster seat).

  • Set reasonable expectations, such as a realistic sense of how long your child can sit at one time, or the amount of food that he can eat during a meal or snack time.

  • Try not to show anxiety about what foods your child is or is not eating. Children learn quickly that food can be used as a weapon for getting their way.

  • Don't forget that children's appetites vary - expect the appetite of your two-year old to be reduced, since he is now growing at a slower rate than before, and he is much more interested in exploring his surroundings instead of sitting in one place. Children should eat to satisfy their hunger, not to gain anyone's approval.

  • Try to sit and eat as a family. This establishes mealtimes as pleasant social occasions.

  • Offer your child the same food that everyone else at the table is eating, as long as it is age-appropriate.

  • Present food in a form your child can cope with at her level of skill and independence - praise your child for what she achieves. Using child-sized, unbreakable utensils, dishes and cups will help encourage your child to develop the skills she needs to learn to feed herself.

  • Understand that children need practice - using a spoon, fork and cup with control and confidence takes years of practice.

  • Remember that children tend to be messy - they may eat with their fingers and hands, spill things and can be easily distracted.

  • Limit the number of choices at a meal - too many choices can be overwhelming. Foods that are rejected by your child should be re-introduced at a later time.

  • Involve your child in making decisions about meals - so his likes are reflected in the menu.

  • Buy or make a placemat for your child's place at the table.

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