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How to establish and encourage healthy eating habits for the whole family

02 November 2022
How to establish and encourage healthy eating habits for the whole family -  encourage healthy eating habits

It’s not an easy task trying to get a family to develop healthy eating habits.

Busy lifestyles, an abundance of convenience foods, picky eaters and the lure of having takeaways delivered to your doorstep can make the task even harder for parents.

That said, it is important to note that the eating habits our children learn at home will follow them into adulthood and greatly influence their future health, wellness and quality of life. So, be warned, the effects of good or bad eating habits are long-term!

To ensure that your children maintain a healthy weight and normal growth, develop strong bones, teeth and muscles, it is crucial to establish healthy eating habits as young as possible.

Good habits, like bad ones, are hard to break.

Perhaps the easiest way to start the process is by modelling these behaviours yourself.

Children learn from observing the grown-ups in their lives and imitating them. So, first and foremost, eat well yourselves.

Secondly, offer your children choices when it comes to food.

You should be in control of the meals and snacks overall, but build in plenty of options so that they feel they have some control over their food choices.

For example, allow them to choose the condiments or sauces to go with their meal.

Whether you have toddlers or teens, here are some additional suggestions to help you encourage your children to develop smart eating habits.

Eat breakfast every day

Skipping breakfast can lead to hunger and tiredness and your child looking for less healthy foods later in the day.

Offer a choice of breakfast foods, but make sure they are healthy, low GI options.

Oat porridge, wholewheat toast with peanut butter or banana, a smoothie with oats, yoghurt and fruit, eggs of any kind are all good options.

Stock up on healthy foods and snacks

Children, especially younger ones, will eat what is available at home.

Make it easy for them to choose healthy snacks by having them readily available and within reach.

Keep a variety of washed and cut-up fruits and vegetables in containers in the fridge, as well as tubs of unsweetened yoghurt, hummus and peanut butter.

Peel and segment oranges and slice up apples for easy eating. Freeze grapes and berries for a refreshing summertime snack.

Be mindful of what you put in your shopping trolley - leave the packets of chips, sweet biscuits, chocolate bars and pastries on the shelves.

Don’t ban them outright, but rather make them “once-in-a-while” foods for treats and special occasions.

Make your own flavoured drinks

Offer water or milk at mealtimes.

Fruit juice, although nutritious, is high in sugar and calories and should be drunk in moderation.

Sugar-laden fizzy drinks should be avoided altogether, except on special occasions.

For variety, make your own healthier drinks at home by mixing soda water with a little fruit juice and lots of ice.

For fun, add a few frozen blueberries or strawberries.

Make ordinary water look more inviting by having a large jug in the fridge, to which you have added cucumber or lemon slices and some mint leaves.

Eat meals together as a family

Eat together as often as possible.

Cooking at home instead of ordering take-aways is a way to ensure your family is eating healthy ingredients.

You can also observe how well your children are eating.

Try not to eat meals (or snacks) in front of the TV.

When children eat while watching TV, they are distracted and not aware of what they are eating.

This can easily lead to overeating because they will find it difficult to register feelings of fullness.

It’s important to make family mealtimes pleasant.

Don’t let food become a source of conflict because then children will associate eating with stress.

Don’t force children to eat everything on their plate – all this does is teach them to override feelings of fullness.

Start by offering small servings and let your child ask for more if they are still hungry.

By the same token, before offering second helpings, ask your child to wait 15 minutes to see if they are truly still hungry.

This gives the brain time to register fullness.

Don’t make dessert a regular part of everyday meals. Keep desserts for weekends, special days and holidays.

Involve children in food shopping and preparation of meals

This is a great way to learn more about your family’s food preferences, and it will give you an opportunity to talk to your children about nutrition.

When shopping, give each child a chance to choose a meal for supper and pick the vegetables to go with it.

When you are preparing food, find tasks that your children can help with.

Being involved with the selection and preparation of food will make them more interested in trying new tastes and flavours.

Grow some of your own food

You don’t need a large space, just a few containers or pots where you can plant a variety of herbs and a few salad plants.

Let the children be responsible for watering and collecting the herbs when needed in the kitchen.


As a parent, expect to run into some resistance when it comes to healthy eating.

But try not to let that discourage you.

Long-term it is well worth the effort it takes to establish good eating habits.

You will also benefit by making more healthy food and diet choices.

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