Supporting families

Supporting famillies to develop healthy eating behaviours

Many food preferences can be developed during this stage of life so offering young children a variety of food now will help them to develop healthy eating habits for later in life.  It’s important for parents, carers, siblings and other family members to act as good role models when choosing foods and eating together as much as possible. 

Hint: even if parents don’t like a particular food, it is important to be enthusiastic and encourage their child to try/eat the food 

A child’s eating behaviours are established in the early years. It is important the whole family are involved in helping develop healthy eating habits in children.  Here are a number of tips to achieve this:

  • Offer regular meal and snack times throughout the day where possible
  • Try and stick to a maximum of 30 minutes per mealtime
  • Encourage the whole family to sit down and eat meals together making meal times more sociable
  • Turn off any distractions such as the television/computer/games/toys etc when eating
  • Try and make mealtimes calm and relaxed
  • Some children can be put off by large portions so offer them smaller portions and seconds can always be offered if they are still hungry
  • Offer praise when they have eaten well
  • Try not to use high sugar and fat treat foods as rewards or bribes for eating certain foods
  • Avoid bribing a child to eat more and let them decide when they have had enough
  • It can take several attempts for a child to accept a food so continue to offer the food at future meals or snacks
  • Try offering new foods with already accepted or familiar foods
  • Try not to show frustration when a child won’t eat a certain food.Take it away and try again another day
  • Be aware of what you say around children.  Try to avoid labelling children as “not liking” a certain food – if children hear this they will internalise it.  Instead keep encouraging them to try, and encourage parents to be positive role models (by showing willingness to try foods rather than expressing their own dislikes).
  • Offer children meals and snacks with lots of colour and texture as this can be more appealing to a child
  • If it is safe to do so involve children in the preparation of meals and snacks
  • Finally accept that mess can be part of mealtimes and can help children to learn about food and eating

References and resources

British Dietetic Association: Suitable milks for children with cow’s milk allergy, food fact sheet: August 2014

British Dietetic Association: Policy Statement, introducing a cup to an infant’s diet: March, 2015

British Dietetic Association: Fluid, food fact sheet: March 2017

Children’s Food Trust: Voluntary food and drink guidelines for early years settings in England – A practical guide: October 2012. Available at

First Steps Nutrition Trust: Good food choices and portion sizes for 1-4 year olds: 2016

NHS Choices: Vitamins for Children: (last accessed 24.07.17)

NHS Choices: What to feed young children: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/understanding-food-groups.aspx (last accessed 24.07.17)

NICE: Maternal and Child Nutrition, Public Health Guidance (PH11): March 2008, updated November 2014. Available at http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph11


NHS choices website has a wealth of information including:

  • What to feed young children
  • Vitamins for children
  • Fussy eaters
  • Toddler food: common questions
  • 5 a day and your family

First Steps Nutrition website has a number of downloadable resources:

  • Good food choices and portion sizes for 1-4 year olds
  • Eating well: Packed lunches for 1-4 year olds
  • Eating well recipe book

British Dietetic Association has a number of useful food factsheets to download:

  • Children – Healthy eating
  • Vitamin D

Other useful resources include: