In the early childhood years, a child rapidly develops both cognitively and physically. A diet high in fruits, vegetables and lean protein is important to support this development. Unfortunately for early education and childcare center staff, parents are not always consistently supportive in the development of healthy eating habits for their children. With busy schedules and easy meals, which are usually not the healthiest, we all need a few tricks up our sleeves for guiding children to make healthy eating choices.
Tip 1: The Power of Choice
The power of choice is an effective method of getting children to try healthy foods. Offering choices to young children empowers them to establish their independence while providing healthy options. When children can make their own choices, they are less likely to protest. Giving a child a choice between apple slices and carrot sticks presents children with healthy options while empowering them.
Tip 2: Involve Children in Mealtime Preparations
Children are more likely to try a new food if they help to prepare it. Having menu options that enable your children to assist with preparing a portion of their own meal. This may slow down the process of efficiently feeding dozens of hungry kids, but if you can manage it a few times per week, it will increase their interest in trying new foods both at your center and at the family dinner table. Match your child’s developmental skills with recipes. For example, if your child can cut playdough, they are also able to make a fruit salad with a variety of fruits they choose. Pre-measuring and portioning ingredients is another way to support your child as a participant in meal preparations.
Tip 3: Be a Role Model
Children learn by watching. Do your teachers eat lunch with their children? The best publicity for broccoli is seeing an adult and other children eat it! When a child sees another person eating and enjoying a food, they are more likely to try it themselves. As with parents, teachers’ attitudes and habits around food are a key factor in a child’s willingness to try new foods.
Tip 4: Stock up on Healthy Snacks
Stock up and/or prepare snacks of lean protein, fruits, and veggies. Wash and pre-cut fruits and vegetables. Store snacks in small containers that are easily accessed by your child. Snacks that are high in protein and fiber will keep your children satisfied longer. Therefore, they will limit between meal snacking. Limit purchasing those quick go to snacks such as potato chips and cookies that are not as healthy and save them for class rewards and special occasions.
Tip 5: Mealtime Fun
Mealtimes should be an enjoyable experience for children so that they associate healthy foods with positive experiences. Refrain from lecturing children regarding the importance of eating healthy foods. Instead provide positive praise for trying and eating new (healthy) foods.
Tip 6: The Art of Disguise
Include food options in your menu that are healthier than the children think. For example, using fat-free mozzarella cheese (sparingly) and adding red peppers or sliced cherry tomatoes instead of pepperoni to pizza slice increases the fiber intake while reducing the calories from fat.
Diana is a blog writer and early childhood education content specialist at Kindertales.
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