9 Ways Nannies Can Help Teach Kids Good Eating Habits
As a nanny, you’ll know that your job is not only to be responsible for taking good care of children’s health and well-being, but also to be heavily involved in their education.
Food is an enormous part of this; often it is your responsibility to provide nutritious food that will help them grow, develop and have plenty of energy. In addition, you are expected to teach children the etiquette of meal times and to ensure they learn healthy food habits. That’s a lot of responsibility!
According to nutrition experts, the foundations of a lifetime of healthy eating are laid during early childhood, so it’s important to incorporate lots of activities into your time with the children that will nurture good eating habits. Thankfully, many of them are simple and easy to introduce.
Here are nine ways children can learn good eating habits from you.
1. Get children involved in cooking
It may be part of your job description to prepare healthy meals and snacks for the children, which means you have the responsibility for ensuring the finished meal is nutritious and balanced.
However, this doesn’t mean that the children shouldn’t help prepare food. So much can be learnt about healthy eating whilst cooking: it’s the perfect opportunity to chat about which foods are healthy and which aren’t and why.
With careful supervision or help, even young children can chop, grate, weigh, and mix, which helps them with their fine and gross motor skills and counting skills too. Cooking is a brilliant learning tool all round.
2. Take them shopping
If grocery shopping is part of your responsibilities, then this is another wonderful opportunity to explore the concept of healthy eating. A trip to the colorful fruit and vegetable sections can inspire children to pick out and explore something healthy they haven’t tried before. And again, it’s a brilliant chance to discuss why you put certain foods in the basket in abundance, while there are other foods you only buy occasionally as treats.
3. Presenting healthy food in a fun way
You can encourage children to eat more healthily by presenting food in an exciting way, such as in interesting colors, shapes and patterns similar to how Japanese moms prepare their kids’ bento boxes. You could even ask the children to make their own masterpiece on their plate.
4. Teach by example
The children will look at you as in important role model, so whatever your eating habits, it’s best to ensure the children only witness the positive ones. Save the unhealthy snacks for when you are off duty!
5. Train them to be conscious of hunger cues
You may have been asked to provide regular meals and snacks at regular times, but it’s still important to teach children about their hunger cues and take notice of their bodies. This helps ensure they don’t get in the habit of under or over eating, which can be a difficult habit to shift, and helps them understand when and why they need to eat.
You can ask children questions like, “Do you feel like your tummy’s empty/full?”, or “Does your tummy have room for a snack to help you have lots of energy right up to lunch?”
6. Play with food
Learning about healthy eating isn’t just limited to meal times. There are lots of playtime opportunities too. Playing with food probably isn’t something you are told to encourage at mealtimes, but setting up separate chances to play with food may be beneficial for child development.
Messy play, including playing with food, is recognized as a vital part of early childhood development for many reasons. Most significant here is that it helps encourage exploration of the unfamiliar, fostering their self-confidence. Some studies have shown that children who are given many messy play opportunities are less fussy eaters and are more ready to try different foods.
7. Enjoy healthy eating games
If children have access to a role-play kitchen or shop, it is also a great chance to initiate learning about healthy eating. For example, if your child is trying to serve you too many cakes in their café, it’s an opportunity for you to gently teach them what would happen if you ate too many cakes in real life!
Making sure they have plenty of healthy examples of play food is important too, as these items will become more familiar to children which, in turn, means they are more likely to eat the real version.
8. Explore food-related apps
If your children are encouraged to use technology as part of everyday life, there’s no reason why you couldn’t request a healthy eating game to be downloaded onto their device. There are plenty of options from games about heroes and monsters that teach nutrition, to sorting games, to puzzle types of games.
9. … and stories
Visiting the library and reading to the children are almost certainly encouraged by the children’s parents. Usually it’s not too difficult to find a story or two that might help encourage children to eat up and eat healthily. Perhaps a story about a superhero in the form of a vegetable, or a character that eats up his vegetables and gets superhuman strength — much like Popeye and his cans of spinach. Classics include “The Hungry Caterpillar” and “Green Eggs and Ham”.