Parents Play a Key Role in Developing Children’s Eating Habits

children sitting in a circle joining hands

Children don’t develop their own eating habits overnight. Parents and caregivers play an important role in influencing what and how much their children eat. Studies have shown that childhood experiences with food plays an important role in eating habits later in life.

  • Parents and caregivers influence children’s eating habits through:
    • the types of foods they buy for themselves and the family
    • what they serve for snacks and on the breakfast, lunch and dinner plates
    • being healthy eating role models

When children eat healthy, they have a better chance of having a healthy weight

  • Being well-nourished supports healthy growth and development and gives children the energy needed to carry out their daily activities.
  • Eating well has been proven to help children perform better at school.

What you buy and eat sets an example for your children

  • Children learn about food and eating when they are young. They learn from the family culture, practices and attitudes around eating.
  • For example, children who see their parents dieting may diet as well and may believe this is normal eating behaviour.

What you buy is what your children will actually eat

  • Make sure to buy a variety of healthy foods when you shop. Count the number of times you have drive-through or take-out meals. Fast foods once in a while may not be so bad so long as you make healthy choices. But fast food places usually:
    • don’t provide enough vegetable, fruit and whole grain choices
    • serve foods that are high in calories, fat, sugar and salt
    • provide serving sizes larger than what some children really need

How much is as important as what they eat

Young children between the ages of 1 and 5 have small stomachs and high energy needs. Having small, frequent meals and snacks throughout the day can help establish a routine, keep their energy levels up, and help develop healthy eating patterns.  Having regular meals and snacks helps establish a healthy routine, which is especially important as children get older.  Eating meals together as a family has been linked to healthier food choices in children and adolescents.

Why family meals are so important

Family meals are a healthy routine which provide children with comfort and security about food. Shared meals are an opportunity to pass along family traditions and help keep families connected and communicating.

Why eat together?

  • Nutrition – Children and teens eat more balanced meals and a wider variety of foods when they eat with their family.
  • Tradition – Sharing meals with family members helps pass along family and cultural traditions about food.
  • Comfort and security - Children who eat meals regularly together with family and caregivers feel satisfied and secure knowing when they will eat.
  • Learning - Sharing meals and helping with meal preparation helps children learn more about food and about how to eat and make healthy food choices.
  • Communication - Sharing meals gives children and their parents or caregivers time to talk and share information about their day.

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