5 tips on giving your child better eating habits

CHILDREN can easily slip into poor eating habits and busy parents might be tempted to turn a blind eye. Better not to, warns Safefood nutritionist Dr Aileen McGloin.

Here we detail some habits to avoid.

Eating in front of the TV:

It’s unhealthy because it tends to be mindless, says McGloin. Children eat more than they normally might. “They get less satisfaction from food because they’re not concentrating on it. They miss out on the social skills of eating as a family.”

Redress the habit by encouraging a habit of eating at table, of chatting and making it a social occasion and put a ban on devices (mobiles, iPads) at mealtimes.

Eating in the car:

“This isn’t straightforward,” says McGloin. 

“If you have a starving child coming out of school and you need to bring them to a sporting activity, it might be a good idea to give them something healthy like a yoghurt, bag of popcorn or fruit.”

But it’s not healthy, she warns, if you’re on a long journey and you give your children treats to stop them squabbling in the back of the car or getting bored. 

“Currently in Ireland, 20% of calories in children’s diets come from treat foods,” says McGloin, who finds many parents wrongly consider a treat a snack food. 

She advises — on long car journeys — keeping children occupied, not with food, but with games or books (if your child can tolerate reading in a car).

Eating on the go:

Because of the small size of their stomachs, children — especially under-fives — need between-meals snacks.

“These need to be healthy and small — a snack rather than a meal,” explains McGloin.

Child has been put to bed and uses food as distraction:

He appears at kitchen door, saying ‘I can’t sleep. I’m hungry’. If you give in, you’re giving him food he doesn’t need.

“He’s at the point of going to bed — these are calories he isn’t going to use. And you’ll be reducing his sleep time,” says McGloin, who warns lack of childhood sleep is associated with increased body weight.

The parent has to be strong, she says.

“You have to say ‘you’ve just had dinner so you can’t be hungry’. Then offer a sip of water.”

Picky eaters:

These children are less likely to get the full range of nutrients. Children’s average intake of fruit and vegetables is two and a half daily portions rather than the recommended five. 

“With picky eaters, be patient and persevere with introducing a food 10 times or more,” advises McGloin.


* Keep treats as treats. Know the difference between a healthy snack and a treat.

* Have healthy options — multi-pack of popcorn, dried fruit or nuts — available for long car journeys.

* Encourage eating variety of fruit and vegetables. These pack a healthy nutritional punch. They also displace treats in children’s diets.

* Stay strong with children’s requests for ‘unhealthy’ food. Keep them hydrated with water and milk.


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