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Plan the Perfect Place to Eat in Your Early Years Setting

By creating a relaxed and enjoyable mealtime environment, you can help children develop a healthy attitude to food, says Sarah Ockwell-Smith…

  • Plan the Perfect Place to Eat in Your Early Years Setting

Plan the perfect eating environment for your little ones with Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s five top tips.

1 | Trust their instincts

Try to encourage intuitive eating – this means recognising and respecting the body’s signals concerning hunger and satiety (feeling full).

Trusting that children are the best judges of whether they need to eat – and not forcing or denying food contrary to this instinct – is the most important thing any caregiver can do when encouraging healthy eating habits.

2 | Be a role model

Young children are naturally neophobic – they have a genuine fear of trying new foods. A great way to encourage them to have a taste is to model eating. That means sitting with them and eating the same foods as them at the same time. This is also the best way to teach table manners. Children learn social cues best by mirroring adults.

3 | Hold the rewards

While it may feel natural to prompt a child to try new foods, and praise or reward them when they ‘eat everything up’, this can result in unhealthy eating habits.

Indeed it has a direct link with promoting overeating, because children start to ignore their bodies to receive the reward and ultimately associate eating with feeling good, giving rise to emotional eating.

4 | Play with your food!

Eating is an incredibly sensory experience, but for many children it can feel sterile, with enforced cutlery usage and constant wiping and washing away spills. This can cause sensory issues, such as avoidance of ‘slimy food’.

Children need to get messy when they eat – the more familiar a child is with a food stuff, the more likely they are to enjoy it.

5 | Have a carpet picnic

What I call ‘carpet picnics’ (simply a blanket on the floor!) are a great way to encourage fussy eaters.

Importantly, the picnic affords children autonomy over what they eat, allowing them to select the foods they like and avoid those they dislike, and to select portion sizes.

Plus it avoids the throwing of food that so often accompanies highchair eating…

Sarah Ockwell-Smith is the author of the upcoming The Gentle Eating Book

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