How to teach your wee sprout good eating habits

Good nutrition and healthy eating habits are the building blocks to lifelong wellness. As a loving mum, you offer your little one quality produce and fresh milk, but she may be drawn to unhealthy processed foods and sweets. As your little one begins to assert her independence through her interactions with others, you may notice her taking a stand at the dinner table as well. Dr Pankaj Vohra, MD, insists that good nutritional habits start early. "Teaching your child good eating habits is easiest if you start right from the beginning, as soon as you introduce your baby to solid foods." Dr. Vohra believes that it's never too late for young children to learn better habits, particularly if mealtimes are a struggle.

Teaching your child good eating habits is easiest if you start right from the beginning, as soon as you introduce your baby to solid foods.

Dr Pankaj Vohra MBBS, MD - Pediatrics, All India Institute of Medical Sciences

Provide variety

Your little sprout is growing quickly, and her body needs a wide range of foods that will provide all the nutrients she'll need! Start with just the basics: prepare lean protein such as beef, fish or poultry, dairy foods, fresh vegetables and fruit, and whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals. As long as your sprout is given a balanced variety, she'll get the healthiest start you can provide!

Variety is the spice of life, and it's also the key to preventing boredom at meal times. Toddlers love finger foods, so sweet favourites like berries or sliced bananas are a perfect go-to snack. If you're worried about your kid's fruit and vegetable consumption, try adding nutritious fresh foods to your little one's favourite recipes. For instance, you can puree vegetables and add them to tomato sauce for pasta, or mix grated carrots or courgette into macaroni and cheese for a healthy twist on a toddler favourite.

Food is fun

Between the ages of 9 and 18 months, your little one wants to feed herself, starting with her fingers and then graduating to her spoon and fork. When the food in front of her is colourful, bright and arranged in an appealing design, she'll be more likely to enjoy her meal. Don't be afraid to get creative: food isn't just delicious, it's fun!

Toddlers love to play with their food, so why shouldn't you? Practice your skills as a culinary artisan and your wee one will look forward to her meal every time. Try an adorable Welsh rabbit "rarebit," dressed with sugar-snap pea ears and eyes, fruit skewers with your sprout's favourite fresh fruits and yoghurt for dipping, or miniature pizzas made from tortillas, pizza sauce and your child's favourite cheese as a topping.

Set the example

Children learn positive habits from their parents, and your wee one is no exception! If she watches you eating the same healthy foods she is served, she'll be more interested in choosing nutritious items on her own. A family meal at the table gives you the opportunity to set a healthy example for your child.

Eating a meal at the table is a learned skill! Before sitting down, you can set your sprout up for success by turning off the telly and minimising other potential distractions. Your little one may not want to sit still for too long, but that's normal for her age: if she sits long enough to fill her tummy, your mission is accomplished! Praise her for a job well done, and occasionally offer a small portion of a healthy treat, such as frozen yoghurt or fruit.

Have patience

Good eaters are made, not born! As your little one grows, she'll begin to realise that she has choices, and this new-found independence can lead to power struggles at the dinner table. Rather than slip into a battle of wills, embrace your sprout's independence and let her make choices for her plate that you'll both be happy with.

Feeding young children takes no small degree of patience. Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, but avoid the temptation to give into your kid's every whim. Don't insist that she cleans her plate, though: if she starts off eating and then her appetite seems to taper off, she's probably full, even if there's still plenty of food left on her plate. Insisting that she eats more when her tummy feels full will only serve to interfere with her body's natural hunger signals.

Picky eaters

If your little one turns her nose up at the healthy food on her plate, don't be discouraged! Most toddlers are picky, so she may prefer to eat only those foods familiar to her. It's okay to let her have her favourites occasionally, as long as you're providing a balanced variety of foods. If you introduce a new food and she won't eat it, don't give up: it may take between 10 and 20 tries before your little sprout accepts the new food. Try pairing the new food with an old favourite for optimal success.