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Making Mealtime with your Child Easier

By Laura Henry-Allain MBE

Storyteller, educationalist, producer and consultant

Food and mealtimes are central to family life, irrespective of culture, religion or philosophical values. Equally, good nutrition is vital for children’s healthy development.

It is important to add that a child’s food journey depends on their age, stage and ability. Please defer to your pediatrician for guidelines on what your child should be eating and when.

Generally, for long-term health benefits children should be eating food that helps to support their growth and development. Guidelines can help to inform decisions on what food to purchase and what to avoid.

It is natural that there will be certain foods that your child will dislike – as adults we are the same. One dish that I still dislike is rice pudding. As parents we need to reflect on whether our child is a ‘picky eater’ or if they genuinely dislike certain foods. Be mindful that if your child has a disability, allergy or additional health needs this may impact on the food they choose to eat.

If your child is able to do so they can help with the preparation of their meals – in a safe way – including chopping, pouring and mixing. Consider using a kid-friendly recipe book that they can choose meals from. Cooking with your child lays the foundation for learning in many areas such as science (raw ingredients to the cooked dish), math (measuring and weighing) and geography (where the food comes from).

Above all, remember that mealtimes should be relaxed and enjoyable for you and your child.

Top Tips

Model healthy eating habits for your child.

Children learn by mirroring. Eat with your child and show eating habits that are relevant to your family values and culture, for example, if it is your family norm to use your hands or chopsticks to eat.

Avoid screens during mealtime.

Try to avoid getting in the habit of allowing screens during mealtime. It’s important for children to focus on their meal and understand their bodies instead of running the risk of overeating because they are distracted.

Use mealtimes for conversation starters.

Discuss where the food is from, the different colours of food, whether it is crunchy or soft, for instance. This will add a holistic early learning element.

Offer them a choice.

Where possible offer your child two food items to choose from. For example, would you like an apple or a pear? Giving food choices is better than using food as a reward or punishment.

Learn about food.

Read books with your child that discuss and show food-related themes. Watch food-related children’s shows such as episodes of JoJo and Gran Gran, or School of Yum in Noggin.

Please note, this article does not constitute medical advice. If you are concerned or worried about your child’s eating habits or health, speak to your child’s doctor or pediatrician, without delay, who will be able to advise and support you and your child.

Laura Henry-Allain MBE is an award-winning international storyteller, educationalist, producer and consultant.

She is the creator of the well-loved, award-winning JoJo and Gran Gran global series, developed and produced by CBeebies, and is the series’ associate producer.

Laura is also executive producer on a few shows that are currently in development, including Daddio & Co. Her other children's books include My Skin, Your Skin, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu, and My Family, Your Family, illustrated by Giovana Medeiros, which enables children to talk about relatives, love and belonging. Laura’s new children’s book Maya and Marley celebrates the world of two siblings and will be published in July 2024.

Laura is the vice president of The British Association of Early Childhood Education and a board member of the Children’s Media Foundation.

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