It’s not easy to get children eating healthily. They may be fussy eaters, not like the taste of vegetables, or just prefer sweeter things.
Learning to eat healthily is like learning to walk or ride a bike. It takes time and patience. Children need to build up the confidence to try new food and enjoy healthier options.
In the UK, only around 1 in 8 children eat their 5 A DAY. And many eat more saturated fat (a type of fat we should be eating less of) and added sugars than recommended.
Childhood is a crucial time for growth and development. Young people need vitamins, minerals, protein and energy for their physical and mental development. Yet if you can encourage children to shop, cook, try and grow, you’ll be on your way to making healthy eating more fun for everyone.
Get children involved in food shopping
Tap into your child’s interests: if they like maths, get them to add up how much everything costs or estimate how many bananas in a bunch, strawberries in a punnet or pasta shells in a box. If they like words, teach them the name of the food in a different language or encourage them to describe each item that goes in the trolley.
Shopping is also a way for children to discover different types of fruit and vegetables and learn which ones are in season.
The marketing of unhealthy food in shops can be overwhelming, so make a healthy shopping list together before you head out. You could add baking ingredients such as eggs and flour, and explain that, rather than buying cakes and biscuits in the shops, it’s often healthier to make treats at home (like our chocolate beetroot muffins), where you can control what goes in them.
Get children busy in the kitchen
Cooking is a valuable life skill. When they’re older, they may not remember what a fronted adverbial is, or how to multiply proper fractions, but they may well remember that caponata pasta or vegetable curry you cooked together.
Many parents are nervous about children using knives, but – with supervision – children can help with grating, peeling, chopping and slicing. Younger children often love mixing and measuring ingredients, and helping to read the recipe – developing not just cooking skills but maths and reading as well.
Getting involved in all aspects of cooking teaches children how to create healthy meals, encourages them to try new foods and gives them the confidence to keep developing these skills as adults.
Make it fun to try new foods
It’s a natural instinct for children to want to eat what they know and enjoy sweet flavours over bitter ones. Yet this can mean missing out on a range of nutrients. Persevere! Children may need to try a food up to 15 times before starting to like it! Why not try dips for fruit and veg, making a smoothie or trying frozen varieties?
More ideas to try:
- Let children guess a food by tasting, smelling or feeling it. Sensory learning can increase children’s willingness to try new foods. Make sure you take a turn at guessing, too!
- Challenge children to eat different coloured food and colour them in on a rainbow chart (there are lots of free versions available online). Offer a non-food reward when they complete it, as food rewards can lead to unhealthy eating behaviour later on.
- Present food in a creative and colourful way. Try making fruit and vegetable kebabs or tortilla pizza. Children can decorate with a choice of toppings, including fish! You don’t need to stick to round pizzas – why not try cutting out different shapes?
- Choose an evening each week to have a different food theme so children, as well as adults, can try flavours from different cuisines.
Grow your own food at home
Children who grow their own food tend to eat more fruit and vegetables! By gardening, we learn where food comes from and it gets the whole family more active.
You don’t even need a big garden – why not try growing potatoes in a bucket or cress in an egg?
> Have a look at our Grow It section for kids
Let us help
Eat Move Learn is our healthy living programme for children aged 7–11. Our team – Flower, Mixer, Searcher and Pedal – teach children about healthy eating, food and being active.
A great way to get children thinking about healthy food is by sharing fun and interesting facts about fruit and vegetables! Did you know that there are around 4,000 different species of potatoes in the world? Crazy, right! Challenge them to name a fruit or vegetable for every letter of the alphabet or try our food quizzes!
We also have:
> Healthy recipes children can cook
> Active play ideas – away from screens
> How to grow your own vegetables and fruit
> Fun facts about food and fitness
And all our cookbooks are free to download or order. One of our newest cookbooks – Family flavours – has recipes written by a mum of 3 and a registered nutritionist. The easy family-friendly recipes are healthy and get the whole family cooking.