Healthy eating

6min read

As your young child grows and develops, it is important to encourage and foster a positive attitude to food and mealtimes. It is essential for them to eat well so they can get the nutrients they need for their health and development. Encouraging them to enjoy food and mealtimes is not always easy but helping them learning about food and eating can help them enjoy it and even perhaps make them inquistive about where it comes from, cooking, etc.

Key Points:

  • Find out what necessary nutrients are important for your young child and limit processed foods 
  • Encouraging positive food experiences by eating together and getting them involved in the planning, preparing and cooking of meals 
  • Put less on a child’s plate and also use a smaller plate so that everything is in proportion and they do not feel overwhelmed at mealtimes

Understanding the nutrients

Some fats are necessary for the body, especially for children’s bodies during growth periods. They also help with the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K. These necessary fats are mainly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated and are found in seeds, grains, vegetable oils and soft margarines. Saturated fats are less desirable and are found in animal fats in meat and in dairy products. Small portions of these are required in the diet because of the protein they contain. However, saturated fats are also found in many bought foods, such as cakes, biscuits, pastries, chocolate and ready meals.

Saturated and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats all contain the same amount of calories (energy value of food), but saturated fats affect blood cholesterol more. It has been found that some children have high deposits from cholesterol consumption which makes them vulnerable to early heart disease in adulthood. Many people have turned to low fat diets as awareness of about fats is increasing. However, do not put children on any diet. Children need calories for growth and development. Just limit processed foods, such as hamburgers, which contain hidden fats.

Encouraging positive food experiences

Young children are often copy cats and if they see you and their older siblings eating your food with enjoyment, they may be likely to try new foods. Try to avoid making comments like “this will make you strong”; “it’s good for you” or “eat your crusts, it’ll make your hair curl” as this can make them resistant to eating certain foods.

Serve fruit after a meal, or just give a small quantity of pudding or dessert. Try not to bribe a reluctant meat or vegetable eater with the promise of pudding or a sweet thing as this will reinforce the idea that sweet things are more desirable.

Don’t make food a big issue. If food is picked at or refused for a long time, don’t force the issue. Mealtimes should never be a battleground but rather about enjoying the food and company of the rest of the family.
Think about planting some fruit or vegetable seeds and encourage your child to help it grow. Once it is ready to use, you can both cook with it and it can help them see how food is grown. 

Try to encourage your child to help with the cooking so they can learn and develop a love for food, the process and hopefully it will expand their taste range. Try not to have a TV or a phone/tablet whilst eating as this helps with their attention towards the food. ices you offer. You can use books about food to help them identify all the different fresh and healthy choices available and make it into a game. 

How much food do they need 

Put less on a child’s plate and also use a smaller plate so that everything is in proportion and they do not feel overwhelmed at mealtimes. Some children eat little and often so offer snacks. Remember that young children have smaller appetites than their older siblings and parents, so try giving them food and drink in small portions more often through the day.

Try to provide two courses at meal times, this way if they do not eat one of the dishes; at least they get another opportunity to try again and ingest some calories, even if it is dessert! And if they eat both, then that’s a bonus. If you put food in different dishes on the table for people to help themselves, your children can choose how much and what they want to eat and they can always come back for more. They might even end up eating more salad this way!

Cook family meals carefully as grown-up food, cut-up for a very young child, can be higher in fat, salt and sugar than the pureed food they were used to as a baby. The British Nutrition Foundation have produced a free downloadable poster and leaflet that can give you some guidance on what types of food to encourage. 

Further resources 

It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker. Alternatively, you can speak to your Health Visitor for some guidance. The NHS website has lots of helpful information too on healthy eating for young children.