A healthy diet includes a range of foods from different food groups: for example fruit, vegetables, cereals, bread, meat, and dairy products.
Most children will eat when they are hungry, though they may seem to eat very little at times.
Try to sit down to eat with your child for at least one meal a day. Children like to copy their parents and may eat better and try different foods if you eat with them. It can also be a great opportunity to relax and talk with them. Sitting down while eating and drinking helps to prevent choking as does avoiding small hard foods (eg nuts, popcorn).
Your child may prefer to have 3 meals a day with a small snack between, rather than 3 bigger meals. Fruit, raw vegetables, crackers, small sandwiches or cheese can be healthy snacks. Involve your child in preparing meals and snacks. This may increase their interest in eating.
Offer your child a variety of healthy foods to choose from. Don’t worry if they refuse some foods. They will make up for it by eating others. For example, if vegetables are refused, they may enjoy fruit instead.
Avoid arguing with them: Try not to battle over meal times. Making a fuss, threatening (eg saying they cannot have dessert unless all their dinner is finished), punishing them or forcing them to eat can make your child even more determined not to eat.
Ignore leftover food on their plate and tell them you are pleased for what has been eaten. Try to have meals when your child is not tired. Many children are tired by the time they have their evening meal and refuse to eat. Offering a variety of healthy foods during the day may help if dinner is refused. You may like to offer the evening meal earlier.
If food is refused they may eat it when presented in a different way eg home-made hamburgers or meatballs, vegetables in a different form eg raw or cut into shapes. Keep offering the food they do not like; it may be tried at a later time. Or give your child some choice, eg ‘Would you like an apple or banana’? or ‘Would you like Vegemite or jam on your bread’? This often stops the automatic response of ‘No’ and gives them a feeling of control.
Try to avoid talking about good or bad foods or excessively restricting treat foods. Children need to learn to enjoy these as part of a healthy diet, rather than excluding them entirely.
Children need fat in their diets for energy and growth, but it is important to not have high fat and high sugar food every day. Potato chips or sweet foods (sweets, muesli bars, biscuits, ice cream) may be enjoyed as occasional treats, perhaps once a week. If eaten often or too close to meals, they may reduce your child’s appetite for healthier food. Sweet foods can also cause tooth decay.
Avoid offering snacks too close to meal times. A gap of about 1 to 2 hours without eating may make them hungry and more likely to eat their main meal. If your child asks for food but does not seem hungry, or it is close to a meal, try to think of some activity to keep them busy.