What is the role of parents in children’s healthy eating?

December 1, 2020

Oral motor skills such as sucking and chewing develop rapidly during the first year, allowing young children to discover an increasing number of foods and textures. Refinements in fine motor skills also allow infants to develop more autonomy in regards to feeding, and by the end of the second year, most children have acquired good feeding skills. At this age, children become increasingly influenced by external signals such as family, friends, and society, to dictate their hunger.

Feeding problems are common, and touch approximately 25% to 50% of young children. These problems are usually minor and temporary. They tend to be seen when children are exposed to new foods or events during mealtime, or when they are trying to master a new feeding skill. However, 1% to 2%of children experience chronic feeding problems, including overeating, malnutrition, problematic behaviours during meals and atypical eating choices. These problems are especially common in children born prematurely, and those with developmental disabilities. Eating problems can be highly stressful for parents and can result in a strained parent-child Parents play a key role in promoting healthy eating. Right from the start, choosing to breastfeed gives babies a nutritional boost and may help them learn to better regulate their food intake.

Parents can also:

  • Provide healthy nutritious food daily, such as fruits and vegetables. Be sensitive to when children are hungry and full, and serve age-appropriate portions to avoid overeating.
  • Teach children to be aware of when they are full and to eat slowly.
  • Make mealtime an enjoyable time free of stress and distractions.
  • Provide the tools to make eating easy (e.g. age-appropriate utensils, sippy cups, high-chair), and encourage family meals when possible.
  • Limit the amount of screen time to 1-2 hours daily, and only for children over 2 years. Encourage children to be physically active.

Finally, one of the best ways for parents to encourage healthy eating is by being a good role model.