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Nearly a quarter of Australian children are currently overweight or obese, which is a huge health problem for the nation.

We’re getting better at reducing sugar intake and encouraging healthier snacks, but there’s a lot of work to do.

So how can we encourage hungry youngsters to be more mindful of what they’re eating and not overeat?

Here are some tips to create mindful munchers:

Limit snacks

Does your home have an “open fridge” free-for-all? Or do you follow scheduled mealtimes and limit snacking?

The way your children access food can make a big difference to their long-term diet and relationship with food. In France, for example, families tend to stick to mealtimes though they eat liberally, with several courses. In the US it’s more grazing-style, with kids getting back from school and hitting up the pantry for goodies.

If you do want to put snacks out, make it a fruit bowl, not crisps and biscuits.

Delayed gratification

Studies show that impulse control is one of the most important skills for children to learn.

Kids who can delay gratification tend to do better academically, regulate their emotions and behaviour better, and engage in less risky and addictive behaviours.

It’s also critical for preventing obesity. Teach them to wait for treats, and how to save up for bigger rewards. You can also use games such as “Simon Says” to teach impulse control in a fun way.

Junior chefs

Getting children involved in cooking has many benefits. It can help fussy eaters lose their fear of food, and introduce children to new ingredients, as well as giving them cooking skills for life.

It’s important for mindful eating because kids can see what goes into food, and also get a sense of the time and labour required to make something delicious. You can also teach healthy treat making: fruit salad, frozen banana ice cream, fruit juice ice blocks.

Non-food rewards

Try to break (or prevent) the link between food+reward that so many of us have developed by adulthood.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to promise chocolate if a child behaves, or give it an ice cream to keep it quiet. But it forges an association between food and reward, food and happiness, that can become problematic.

Mix it up with non-edible rewards, or include some healthier rewards in there, such as a fruit kebab or strawberries, which many children love as much as lollies.

Bring in the dentist

It’s never too early to teach kids about good teeth care. Even pre-schoolers are capable of learning what’s good and bad for teeth, and this will help influence their food choices.

Grow vegetables

Also a good way of teaching patience, growing fruit and vegetables in a garden or on a windowsill helps increase mindfulness. When a child finally gets to eat their home grown produce, after weeks or months of gardening, they will more greatly value that food.

Self-service

Let kids help themselves from communal side dishes, so they are able to take what they need, not “clean their plates” of an amount that may be too much.

Leisurely eating

Try to have family meals at the table, and enjoy your food slowly without wolfing it down.

Ask children what they like about particular foods, and use them to teach colours and shapes. Have them guess the ingredients in a dish.

Above all, ensure that children enjoy food and aren’t made guilty about enjoying it.

Food can be a very safe and healthy pleasure, so long as we are aware of how much we’re eating, and are making the best food choices.

What strategies does your family use at the dinner table?

  • We try and eat healthy and everything in moderation.

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  • We have 3 meals a day, dessert after tea and if they want snacks between meals because they are STARVING! I gave them fruit or yoghurt or toast. No crap food, if you’re hungry, you’ll eat what I’m offering

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  • This was an interesting mini article. Thanks for posting!

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  • I make the healthy options easily accessible vs the less healthy options which are not visible. We also have lots of variety. Biggest thing is that we generally don’t drink calories with the exception of milk.

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  • Some great food for thought here

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  • Some very useful tips thank you. I am trying to break my 3 year old from her fussy eating but it doesn’t help when her father comes home from work & opens a packet of chips or biscuits :(

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  • this is a great article. i think that the kids would listen to me more than a dentist though i do understand what you are saying


    • cheers chloe for this article., haven’t seen a new one from you in awhile

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  • I’m really lucky with Miss 3, she eats super healthy by choice. Even eats the fruit and veg out of the garden while she’s playing. :)

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  • There are some great tips in this article, thank you.

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  • The little ones need to learn to eat healthy.Greta tips – thanks so much!

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  • Interesting article with some good advice

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  • Greta tips – thanks so much!

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  • great article..so many parents use lollies and ice cream etc as a bribe to be well behaved and this should not be the case.
    thanx for sharing.

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  • We eat together as a family at the dinner table every night and we use this time to talk and catch up. We also joke and talk about what we’re eating — thanks to the cooking shows, we’re all MasterChefs or critics.

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  • Really good thoughtful article.
    I got my kids to help with food prep and that works.
    I also make sure they only drink water for the majority of the day and especially at meal times.

    Reply

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