How to Encourage Your Child to Eat Healthily

It can be difficult to get your child to eat healthily, but it is important that they do. Unfortunately, the UK has one of the highest levels of child obesity in Europe. Around 10% of children aged 4-5 are classified as obese, while 20% of children aged 10 to 11 are, according to Bupa. 

Children aren’t born obese so it’s important we teach them healthy eating habits at home, in the nursery, and in schools. Here are a few tips on how to encourage your child to eat healthily. 

What does a healthy diet look like? 

Your child should eat a variety of foods from all the food groups, as follows. 

Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They also contain fibre, which can help to keep your child’s digestive system healthy.

Whole grains

Whole grains are also a good source of fibre, protein, and vitamins. They can help to regulate your child’s blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of heart disease in the future. 

Starchy carbohydrates

Starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, potatoes, pasta, and rice, are a fantastic source of energy. They should make up around one-third of your child’s diet.

Milk and dairy

Milk and dairy products are important sources of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. They can help to build strong bones and teeth. Whole-fat dairy is the healthiest choice for your child. Avoid skimmed milk alternatives as they don’t have enough calories. Aim for around 500ml of milk a day, but if your toddler or pre-schooler has dropped their milk feed, they can gain the benefits of dairy by eating  yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products.

Animal protein 

Protein is important for your child’s growth and development. If your child isn’t a vegetarian, they can gain protein from animal sources such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products.

Non-animal protein 

Plant proteins, such as those found in beans, lentils, and tofu, are a good alternative for vegetarians and vegans.


It’s important your child has enough iron in their diet, and this is available in both animal and plant-based foods. Iron in meat is easier to absorb than iron in plant-based foods. But if your child doesn’t eat iron they can easily get enough from fortified cereals, breads, and other grain products.


Zinc is also important for your child’s growth and development, and can be found in both animal and plant-based foods.

What foods should you avoid giving to your child? 

  • Processed foods and empty calories should be avoided as they’re typically high in sugar, fat, and salt, and provide very few nutrients. Empty calories are foods that provide a lot of energy but few nutrients. Examples of empty-calorie foods include sugary drinks, candy, and processed snacks.
  • Sugar is bad for your child because it can lead to obesity and tooth decay. It can also affect your child’s mood and cognitive function. You should limit the amount of sugar your child has to less than 5 teaspoons a day.
  • Unhealthy fats: While healthy fats are vital to your child’s development, unhealthy fats should also be avoided as they can contribute to heart disease and other health problems. How can you tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats? Unhealthy fats are usually solid at room temperature, while healthy fats such as oils from plants are liquid.
  • Salt: Has your child seen you adding salt to your dinner plate? The problem with salt is that it can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease. Try to keep your child’s salt intake to less than 6g (0.2oz) a day. This means reading food labels to learn how much salt has been added. 

How can you encourage your child to try new foods? 

It can be difficult to get your child to try new foods, but there are some things you can do to help.

  1. Try not to get stressed out if your child doesn’t want to eat what you’ve served. Eating together with the family must be a relaxed and enjoyable experience.
  2. Offer a variety of foods at mealtimes, including both new and familiar foods. Even if they don’t try the new food, their familiarity with it might mean they’ll give it a try next time. 
  3. Let your child choose what they want to eat. Putting them in control of what they eat can help them develop a positive relationship with food. 
  4. Make mealtimes fun. Use plates with funny designs, let your child help you prepare food, and give them their own special utensils to eat with. 
  5. Provide positive reinforcement when your child does try a new food. Let them know you’re proud of them for trying something different. 
  6. Let your child help you cook meals. They’re more likely to try a food they’ve helped to prepare. 
  7. Don’t force your child to eat if they’re not hungry.  Wait until they’re hungry and then offer a variety of healthy foods. 
  8. Don’t give up if your child doesn’t like a certain food. It can take up to 10 tries for a child to like a new food. 
  9. Avoid using food as a reward or punishment. 
  10. Don’t give your child sugary drinks or processed snacks. 

Lead by example

If you eat healthy foods, your child will be more likely to do the same. Try to cook meals at home using fresh ingredients. If you don’t have time to cook, try to choose healthy options when eating out. And remember, it’s ok to have a treat every once in a while. Just make sure that sugary drinks, candy, and processed snacks are not a regular part of your child’s diet. They should also have their teeth brushed thoroughly after consuming them. 

The importance of a balanced diet for toddlers and pre-schoolers cannot be stressed enough. By providing your child with a variety of healthy foods, you are setting them up for a lifetime of good health. 


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