Supporting families to develop healthy eating behaviours

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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

Nutrition is a complex science and it is not expected that you will be able to explain all the information in this module to parents (nor that they will be able to absorb it!). Instead, try and draw on the communication skills and behaviour change techniques you have learned the communicating with parents about child weight and behaviour change technique modules to learn about the child’s diet, and use the information in this module to help the family develop some strategies to improve their child’s diet.  The video below provides an example of how this might be done. 


What is happening in the video?

In this video the practitioner (Paula) is talking to the mother of 3-year old Toby (played by an actor) about his diet. You will notice Paula uses open-ended questions allowing the parent to lead the topic of conversation and discuss Toby’s current eating habits. She does this by asking the parent to talk through a typical day and what Toby might eat and drink.  This is a useful way to introduce discussions about lifestyle, since it places fewer expectations on the parent than asking closed questions.  For example, if Paula were to ask “what does Toby eat for breakfast?” or “how many portions of fruit does Toby eat?” she would be implying that Toby does these things, which may in turn lead to socially desirable responses from his mother. Instead by simply saying “talk me through a typical day” the parent is able to explain how things happen in her own way.  As Toby’s mother talks through his typical day, Paula offers affirmations to praise Toby’s positive eating habits. This helps to promote the parent’s feelings of competence. Rather than “jumping in” with advice to improve Toby’s diet (which could leave his mother feeling judged), Paula then asks permission to make some suggestions. By asking permission, it is the parent’s choice to receive advice, therefore promoting autonomy. The combination of affirmations and seeking permission allows Paula to raise a sensitive issue (i.e. Toby’s over-consumption of juice) without placing any blame on his mother. Paula ends the consultation with a summary, which provides another opportunity to remind Toby’s mother what she is doing well whilst also checking both practitioner and parent are clear about the next steps.


Below is a short quiz containing questions on what you have learnt throughout this module. If it takes a number of goes to get all of the questions correct, please note down each score in your logbook in the space provided. The main purpose of this quiz is to embed learning, and provide you with the opportunity to evaluate your learning. Please remember that we are focusing on the effectiveness of this website and not auditing your practice. Once you have all the questions correct you will be provided with a certificate of module completion.