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Food, activity and behaviour

Food

How does a healthy, balanced diet for children aged one to five years differ from that needed by adults?

Young children are growing quickly and have high energy and nutrient requirements for their size. They also eat smaller amounts than older children and adults, so it is important for them to eat regular meals and snacks that contain sufficient energy and nutrients for their needs.

Trying foods – encouraging children to taste food.

It takes around 8-10 tastings to know if we like a food. It is worth explaining this to children. They may not be sure today, but it is worth trying it again another day. 

Encouragement and praise are very important when tasting new foods with children. Ensure they know that if they are not comfortable with it in their mouth and cannot swallow it they can discreetly put it in a piece of kitchen roll and put it in the bin. Trying to swallow something you don’t like can cause a gag reaction and build up a negative experience to that food and tasting other foods. 

Explain that we smell, feel and taste food and that some foods don’t taste as they smell. For some children even touching the food may be a first step if they are reluctant, this should be praised. 


Activity

It is recommended that young children are active for between one and three hours a day. During the period from birth to five years, physical activity is critical for proper growth and development. It provides immediate and long term benefits for physical and psychological well-being.

The benefits of physical activity include:

  • aid to academic learning and concentration
  • reducing obesity
  • produces endorphins and gives a sense of well-being
  • improved sleep and more energy
  • develops physical skills, for example balance and coordination
  • develops social skills by learning how to interact with others and take turns.

Physical activity can be either indoors or outdoors. Our indoor play ideas can offer suggestions of how to include indoor play as part of your child's daily activity


Behaviour

Behaviour tips around food

  • Encourage your child. 
  • Food activities other than eating; encourage children to get used to being around food without having to have it in their mouth or having to swallow it. 
  • Helping with handling food can help some children to become more comfortable with food, (loading it into the shopping trolley, putting it into cupboards, helping to dish up food or stir it etc.)
  • It helps your child to understand where food is coming from.

It is good to work towards three main meals and two healthy snacks a day. It is important for children to learn to feel hungry before a meal and to learn that the feeling of having had enough and not needing any more. A good guideline is to not eat for an hour before and not to allow lots of drink prior to or during a meal, so they don’t fill their tummies up.

It can be helpful for your child to realise when they are eating. You can help this by making them sit down to eat; putting a bib on if they are very young. This will help them to build a healthy eating pattern and not to simply graze on food all day. 

You may find our mealtime magic and top 10 meal time tips will help support you and child in making meal times a pleasant experience.