In the same way we as parents discover new skills like how to feed a baby with baby bottles (Need some tips? Click here!) on our parenting journey, our children are also forever learning new things. We all know that better nutrition improves both physical and mental health, but how do you educate a bouncing bundle of energy and short attention spans like your pre-schooler in this all important topic?
Here we will explore how parents of pre-schoolers can introduce nutrition to their children, in a fun and age-appropriate way that ensures they grow up with a healthy relationship with food and positive body image.
10 top tips for introducing nutrition to your pre-schooler
1. Create a schedule.
It’s best to avoid unplanned eating when it comes to pre-schoolers. A great way to introduce the importance of good nutrition is to have scheduled meal and snack times.
2. Avoid food labels.
Labels like, ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ or ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are best avoided. The aim is to educate them on how to have a balanced diet and a good relationship with food, not to make them feel bad for enjoying a bar of chocolate or fried chicken.
3. Don’t introduce nutrition to try and change their habits.
Pre-schoolers can be fussy little humans. When all they eat is a slice of bread, a whole block of cheese, or three chocolate bars, the pressure you feel to ‘fix’ it and teach them a lesson means it’s not a good time to do so.
4. Understand that learning about nutrition is complex.
Even adults can have a tough time fully grasping nutrition, and even when we know what’s considered ‘best’, we don’t always stick to it. Be patient with your pre-schooler, just as everyone was patient with you as you learned how to change nappies, how to feed with baby bottles and other new skills as a parent.
5. Educate – don’t dictate.
In the same way, labelling foods can be harmful, dictating what your pre-schooler can or cannot eat isn’t a great plan. Introduce a variety of options and don’t put any food off limits.
Top tip: Try to teach your pre-schooler about food the same way you would teach them about space or the difference between mammals and reptiles.
6. Encourage conversation and questions.
Talking about the benefits of food such as needing protein to help us grow or how pudding can help us smile because it tastes good is a great, age appropriate way to talk to your pre-schooler about nutrition. Encourage them to talk freely about food, and ask you questions too.
Top tip: If you don’t know the answer, don’t guess. Research the answer with your pre-schooler and show them you’re learning too.
7. Make food fun.
From creating a dinosaur shape on their plate using veggies to trying scientific experiments, there are plenty of ways that food can be exciting and amusing as well as functional. Pre-schoolers will love the eruption of a cola geyser, or pretending carrot batons are sabretooth tiger teeth!
Top tip: While food can be fun, it’s important to ensure they eat safely too. Encourage them to sit for meals and snacks, as running and playing while eating could cause them to choke. The best way to ensure they sit at the table is to enjoy shared mealtimes and sit down with them.
8. Make sure food is represented amongst their toys.
Having a variety of toys, such as a cake that can be sliced or a box with vegetables ‘growing’ in it, is a perfect way to introduce nutrition to your pre-schooler.
9. Involve them in meal prep.
Pre-schoolers love to get their hands dirty, so why not involve them in mealtime prep? From mixing up a salad bowl to helping layer up a lasagne with pasta sheets, there are plenty of ways your pre-schooler can be involved in making their meals and learning about nutrition whilst doing so.
10. Allow them to interact with food outside of mealtimes.
From growing their own food at home to using pasta shapes as paint stamps, there are many opportunities for pre-schoolers to interact with food without them eating it.
Staying fit and healthy as a family is key, and introducing nutrition to your pre-schooler is a great place to start. Pre-schoolers are full of life and love to learn. Using these ten tips is the perfect way to kick-start a healthy love of food and their bodies.