How to encourage your child to enjoy a healthy diet

WHAT is your earliest food memory? Were you, like countless other Irish children in the 1970s, told to “eat up your greens and think of the poor starving children in Africa”? 

Or threatened with no dessert/TV/treats if you didn’t.

The modern world has brought with it many strategies to coax fussy little eaters to eat what is good for them but, says food writer Bee Wilson in her refreshing new book First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, a lot of what we are told about food is “claptrap”.

High up on her list of nonsense is the notion that women somehow need chocolate.

“The female craving for chocolate is culturally determined, not innate,” she says, arguing that our likes and dislikes are shaped by our environment and our early memories.

“Genes are never the final reason why you like the particular range of foods you do. 

"When a boy likes nothing but cornflakes, it says less about him than it does about the world he lives in,” she writes.

How to encourage your child to enjoy a healthy diet

When it comes to science, there isn’t much to prove that our taste buds are inherited. 

One British study of 3,000 twins in 2007 found that some taste preferences — in particular for garlic, coffee, vegetables, and red meat — were hereditary, though that doesn’t tell us a whole deal.

The argument that our food choices are influenced by our environment is far more convincing and Wilson makes it very well in First Bite.

She describes how her own circumstances coloured her early relationship with food. 

As a teenager, she had a tendency to overeat and she speculates that it may have been a response to living with an older sister with anorexia, as well as growing up in a house where “emotional talk was taboo”.

Parents, too, are often responsible for getting children into bad habits by encouraging them to eat when they might be already full.

So how can we change?

The first step in undoing the bad habits inculcated in childhood is to acknowledge that eating is a learned behaviour, she says. 

If you know how you learned to eat, it will be much easier to unlearn those unhealthy patterns.

The idea is to focus not on what we eat but how we eat. To do that, it makes sense to start taking control of the food environment, rather than the person.

For instance, if you have lots of Pop Tarts in the cupboard it follows that you’re likely to eat them. 

Wilson, however, is a realist and she knows that change is difficult. 

She offers solid advice to adults on how to teach yourself to eat and love wholesome “health-giving” food.

She highlights how soup works as an appetite suppressant — it helps to switch off the so-called hunger hormone ghrelin — and reminds us that using smaller plates is a good way to exercise portion control.

But this is far from being a diet book. After all, Wilson reminds us that just 20% of dieters are successful. 

Those who are “tend to eat breakfast every day and stick to a consistently moderate diet across the week rather than splurging on weekends (5:2 dieters — take note!),” she writes.

So how would Wilson help a child to learn to eat — and love — what is good for them rather than rush to gobble down the heavily marketed sugar and salt-laden produce that is so often aimed at children?

She recommends trying what she describes as the Tiny Tastes regimen. 

The next time your toddler throws a food tantrum, try offering a pea-sized portion of the object of its disgust and, if they eat it, reward them, with a gold star sticker of maybe a tick on a chart.

If it doesn’t work, repeat the process and remember that nutritionists have said it can take between 18 to 20 attempts before a child will accept a new food.

Take heart from Bee Wilson’s own personal success. 

She said she tried this method on her three children, persisting for 14 days, and got them to eat cabbage, spinach, turnips, and, yes, even Brussels sprouts.

* First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson is published by Fourth Estate, €20.


McDONALD’S in Ireland serves up a whopping 2m free-range eggs a year — all of them come from Greenfield Foods in Co Monaghan.

The fast-food giant released the stats ahead of its Free Breakfast Friday initiative on February 26.

To highlight the importance of breakfast, customers at the 89 McDonald’s restaurants will get a free Bacon & Egg McMuffin (348 calories) or a free Sausage & Egg McMuffin (430 calories) until 10am.


IRISH householders waste an incredible €700 worth of food every year. 

That all adds up to a 1m-tonne waste mountain which, despite the increasing popularity of brown bins, ends up in environment —damaging landfill. 

According to, at least 60% of food waste is avoidable if people took the time to rethink how they shopped, cooked, and stored food. 

Salads come top of the wasted-food list — we throw away 50% of what we buy. 

We waste 25% of vegetables (potatoes are the most-wasted vegetable while bananas and apples are the most-wasted fruit), 20% of bread, 10% of meat and fish, and 10% of all dairy products go down the drain.

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DON’T let those photos of celebs who lose their baby fat in five minutes depress you.

In the real world, the weight gained in pregnancy can still be a problem seven years later, according to Dr Marilyn Glenville. 

Quoting a study among pregnant women in the Bronx, New York, she says two in three women had gained more than the recommended weight (22-26lbs) and 38% were still obese seven years later.

Dr Glenville says the best way to manage weight naturally was to follow a low GI diet to keep blood-sugar levels stable.


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