developing a Good Eater
As you introduce new foods to your little one, they’ll begin to develop taste preferences. They’ll also watch everything you do and model your behaviour. For this reason, developing a good eater can be overwhelming. However, there are different tips you can try at home to make this process easier. Also, these tips can be used at any age. Try including a couple at your next mealtime to encourage your little one to be a good eater.
Parent’s versus Child’s Roles at Mealtime
Parent/Caregiver: Remember that it is your responsibility to choose WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE your child eats (1).
Child: Your child is responsible for deciding IF they want to eat and HOW MUCH they will eat (1).
This is a brief description of Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility. To learn more about you and your child’s roles, check out the Introducing New Foods to Your Baby blog post.
Tips to Create an Environment for Good Eating
- Be a positive role model. Your child watches everything you do and eat (2). Act as a good role model by eating new foods. Your child will be more willing to try new foods if they see you eating the same foods (1).
- All foods fit. Don’t make any foods off limits (2). For example, not allowing your child to eat chocolate will make your child want it more. Instead of limiting foods, try including them occasionally in meals. Additionally, avoid using food as a reward or punishment (2). If children associate food with positive or negative actions, they may develop an unhealthy relationship with food (2).
- Eat as a family. If you and your family consistently eat meals at the table, your little one will learn that this is normal. They’ll also learn that food is only eaten at the table, not while playing, watching television, or during other activities (1). Family dinners also have a positive impact on child development and family relationships (3).
- Involve your child in cooking. There are many activities your little one can help you with in the kitchen, depending on their age. Some examples are washing fruits or vegetables, pouring ingredients, or stirring ingredients together (4). When you include your child in preparing meals, they may be more likely to try new foods (4).
Tips to Developing a Good Eater
- Start early. A baby who is offered fruits and vegetables regularly will view them as normal and tasty foods, rather than foods they’re told to eat (3). When you offer your baby new and nutritious foods early on, they’ll learn to accept these foods. They’ll also come to expect variation in foods and be more open to trying new foods.
- Only make one meal. Prepare the same meal for the whole family (1). However, remember to offer food in the correct size and texture for your little one (1). Your child is more likely to try new foods if they know that they will not get a different meal if they refuse dinner (1).
- Don’t force your child to eat everything on their plate. When you pressure your child to finish their plate, they’re more likely to dislike foods and mealtime (2). It is your child’s responsibility to choose if they want to eat and how much they want to eat of what is offered. Trust your child to eat if they are hungry (1). Additionally, the whole family will enjoy mealtime more when children aren’t pressured to eat (1).
Try again. Even if your little one has refused a food, continue to offer new foods. It may take up to 15 tries for your child to try a new food and like or accept it (1). You can try to offer the food in different recipes, at different meals, and on different days. Try to offer new foods at breakfast because this is when your child is most hungry (4). Just don’t give up!
Final Notes from The Nest
Developing a good eater can be challenging and sometimes frustrating. Just remember that as a parent you are a role model when it comes to eating. Creating a positive eating environment can help to make trying new foods a little easier. Also, starting to introduce different foods early on will teach your child to expect different flavours. Lastly, remember that you may have to offer the food several times before your child accepts it. If you’re interested in learning more about developing a good eater from day one, check out our Introducing Solids Program with lots more tips!
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- UnlockFood.ca [Internet]. Canada: Dietitians of Canada; c2023 [updated 2023 Jan 14; cited 2023 Feb 25]. Say Goodbye to Picky Eating!; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Child-Toddler-Nutrition/Say-Goodbye-to-Picky-Eating!.aspx
- UNICEF Parenting [Internet]. New York: UNICEF; c2023 [n.d.; cited 2023 Feb 25]. How to raise a healthy eater; [about 6 screens]. Available from: https://www.unicef.org/parenting/food-nutrition/how-to-raise-healthy-eater
- Harvard Health Publishing [Internet]. Boston: Harvard Medical School; c2023 [updated 2016 Mar 1; cited 2023 Feb 25]. 10 ways to raise a healthy eater; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/10-ways-to-raise-a-healthy-eater-201603019296
- Caring for Kids [Internet]. Ottawa: The Canadian Paediatric Society; c2023 [updated 2019 Feb; cited 2023 Feb 25]. When your child is a picky eater; [about 5 screens]. Available from: https://caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/healthy-living/when_your_child_is_a_picky_eater