Establishing Healthy Eating Habits In Children

Establishing healthy eating habits in early life is essential. This involves consuming the right food, at the right time, and in the right quantities. A balanced diet should include all the necessary macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) as well as micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Breast milk is considered the best source of nutrition for infants in their first six months, as it provides a perfect balance of nutrients and antibodies. However, breast milk alone is not sufficient after six months, and complementary foods should be introduced.

Complementary foods should include a variety of food groups to ensure optimal nutrition for infants and young children. There are eight food groups recommended for children between 6 months and 2 years of age:

• Breastfeeding: Continue breastfeeding while introducing complementary foods. Vitamin A, iron-rich foods, fruits, and vegetables: These provide essential vitamins and minerals for growth and development.

• Dairy products: Milk, infant formula, yogurt, and cheese are good sources of calcium and other nutrients.

• Eggs: They are a rich source of protein and other essential nutrients.

• Flesh foods: Meat, fish, poultry, and organ meats provide important nutrients like iron and zinc.

• Grains, roots, tubers, and plantains: These are rich in carbohydrates and provide energy.

• Pulses, nuts, and seeds: These are excellent sources of protein, fiber, and other nutrients.

• Added salt and sugar are not recommended in the initial complementary feeding.

• When introducing new foods, it is important to start with very small amounts and gradually increase the quantity over a period of 1-2 weeks. Offer small-sized servings to avoid overwhelming the child Be patient and persistent. It may take multiple exposures to a new food before a child develops a liking for it. Continuously offering a variety of nutritious foods can help expand their food preferences over time.

It is advisable to use boiled and cooled water for drinking and to avoid outside meals to prevent food borne & water some infections. Honey should not be given to infants under 1 year due to the risk of botulism.

The consistency of food should be thin in the early months (6 months to 12 months) to facilitate easy swallowing and digestion. Choking hazards should be taken into consideration, and foods such as nuts, seeds, and hard pieces of fruits or chapati should be avoided in pieces form until the child reaches 2 years of age.

To foster healthy eating habits, here are few tips for parents and caregivers:

1. Try to prepare and give “home-made” healthy and tasty food, as it allows control over ingredients and ensures a nutritious meal.

2. Offer a variety of food items that vary in taste and texture, promoting exposure to different flavors and expanding the child’s palate.

3. Make feeding a fun and enjoyable experience, keeping feeding time to less than 30 minutes to maintain the child’s interest.

4. Encourage your child to eat by himself/herself, allowing them to develop independence and fine motor skills.

5. Avoid forcing your child to eat and respect their likes and dislikes, as this can help create a positive association with food.

6. Childhood obesity is a growing concern, and it is important to avoid excessive feeding and the consumption of calorie-dense foods. Limit snacks & sugary beverages between meals and maintain a gap of 2 to 3 hours between each meal, promoting healthy eating patterns and preventing overeating the obesity

7. Minimize the consumption of junk foods and food items containing preservatives

8. Gradually reduce the quantity of milk to once or twice per day in older children, as excessive milk consumption can interfere with appetite and nutrient intake from other foods.

9. Ensure the inclusion of at least two types of fruits and two types of vegetables in your child’s daily diet. Fruits and vegetables provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.

10. Create a positive mealtime environment by avoiding the use of smartphones and watching TV during meals. This allows for better focus on the food and encourages mindful eating.

11. Be a role model for healthy eating habits. Children often imitate their parents’ behavior, so demonstrating healthy food choices and eating habits can have a significant impact on their own preferences.

12. Involve children in meal planning and preparation. Engaging them in age-appropriate tasks, such as selecting fruits and vegetables at the grocery store or helping with simple food preparations, can increase their interest in and acceptance of healthy foods.

13. Teach portion control and mindful eating. Help children recognize their hunger and fullness cues, and encourage them to eat until they are satisfied, rather than promoting overeating or restrictive eating behaviors.

14. Encourage family meals whenever possible. Eating together as a family promotes social interaction and allows for positive food experiences and discussions about healthy eating.

15. Educate children about the importance of nutrition and its benefits. Age-appropriate explanations about how different foods help the body grow, develop, and stay healthy can foster a positive attitude towards nutritious choices.

By following these tips and guidelines, parents and caregivers can contribute to the development of healthy eating habits in children. Remember that creating a positive and supportive food environment is key in promoting lifelong healthy eating behaviors.


Consultant – Pediatrician,

Rainbow Children’s Hospital, LB Nagar, Hyderabad

“This article is part of sponsored content programme.”