The early childhood years are a crucial time for eating a variety of foods and developing eating behaviours and food preferences. The greater the variety of foods that children are exposed to in their early years, the greater the likelihood that they will eat a range of foods as an adult.
Mealtimes should provide a relaxed, safe environment for children to try new foods. Offer and encourage new foods regularly, including a variety of tastes, textures and colours. Include familiar foods as well as new foods, and encourage children to taste new ones. Continue to offer new foods to children, even if they do not taste them on the first few occasions. Being in a group can encourage children to try new foods, as they are more likely to do so if they see their peers eating and enjoying them.
If food is not provided by the setting, encourage parents to provide a variety of foods for their children. Although sharing food is not recommended, it can be helpful to discuss with children the variety of foods brought in lunchboxes, without singling out particular children.
The role of adultsYou have a big influence on the children you work with. They learn a lot by watching what you do and from listening to you. By sitting with children at meals and demonstrating healthy eating behaviours, you can teach children good eating habits.
Some important points about this role include the following:
- Sit with children during meals and snacks.
- If food is provided, eat the same food as the children.
- Encourage children to taste all the foods offered at a meal or snack.
- Never give or deny food as a reward or punishment.
- Make sure the social environment is calm and positive.