Eating a wide variety of foods during childhood is important as it lays a good foundation for future eating habits, as well as ensuring children get the nutrients and energy needed for growth and development.

Research has shown that exposing children to a variety of foods at a young age can increase their likelihood of trying new food later in life.

Meal times

Meal times provide a great opportunity to role model healthy eating behaviours. Just like active lifestyles, children are more likely to try and/or like foods they see parents or carers eating. Use this time to check your own behaviours.

Easy tips to make the most of mealtimes

  • Turning off the TV and eating together at the table
    Our busy lives are often hectic.  Meals at the table can provide a great opportunity to spend some quality whole-family time together, talking.
  • Use this time to offer new foods
    Experiment!  Introduce sides of healthy meals with known favourites.  Studies have shown the more times children ‘try’ a food, the more likely they will be to develop a taste for it.  Likewise, offering a range of food when young increases the likelihood of children tasting or experimenting with food in years to come.
  • Ask about school lunches
    Are they enjoying them? If not, why, what could be better to take?
  • Talk about or plan activities
    The whole family can join in
  • Encourage kids to take an interest in food
    Try allowing each family member to choose a meal to eat during the week.
  • Enjoy the time together!

In the kitchen

Great habits start in childhood. Allowing children to participate in meal preparation is a great start to instil interest in healthy food. Involve your child in as many ways as often as possible so that they can learn. In addition to cooking, they could help with planning, shopping or cleaning up.

To get started, remember to talk about hygiene and safety with the children before starting in the kitchen. Here are some reminders that may be second nature to you, but brand new for children:

Vegies on a chopping board

Be a clean cook:

  • Wash your hands before you start to cook
  • Wear an apron or play clothes
  • Wash all fruits or vegies in your recipe before you start to prepare them
  • Don't lick your fingers or any kitchen utensils until you have finished cooking
  • Always wash and put away your utensils and clean up the cooking area when you have finished

Be a careful cook:

  • Adjust any oven shelves before you turn on the oven
  • Turn the oven to the correct temperature before you start to cook
  • Use oven mitts to remove hot dishes from the oven or stove
  • Remember to turn off the oven or stove when you have finished cooking
  • Be careful with sharp knives, keep your fingers away from the blade
  • Always cut food on a chopping board

Age/Activity information

Remember: Children are more likely to like and want the food they’ve prepared.  Try choosing recipes and snacks they can make for their lunchboxes, or if they’re too young, try letting them choose and watch it being made.

Children and teens can help in any way that you feel they are ready. To get started, use the ideas below as a general reference to appropriate skill level;

2- 3 year olds wash vegetables and fruit or tear lettuce and salad greens
3-4 year olds mash potatoes and bananas or mix together batters
4-6 year olds measure dry and liquid ingredients or set the table
6-8 year olds toss salad ingredients together or make a simple breakfast
8-12 year olds can make their own school lunch or help to plan meals
12 year olds and up  can follow more complicated recipes or assemble and mix most ingredients
teens could be in charge of making one meal per week

Remember: these are just suggestions and your child may be able to do more or less in the kitchen. Involving children in food preparation may not only enhance their cooking skills, but help develop important life skills such as how to measure and how to follow instructions.

Tips to ensure family time in the kitchen remains fun and relaxed

  • Allow children to assist when you can
    Children learn better when they do things, rather than just watching.
  • Cook together when you’re not in a rush 
    It can be slower and messier when your child first starts to help.
  • Read the recipe beforehand
    Before you begin to cook you should read the recipe through from beginning to end.
  • Be prepared
    Being prepared and having equipment and ingredients ready on the table can save a lot of hassle while children are still learning.
  • Choose recipes suitable for their age
    An easy start could be to mash vegetables such as cooked potatoes, pumpkin and/or parsnip.
  • Remember, it's okay for your child to make mistakes, that's how they learn!
Fussy Kid

Fussy Eaters

Children have more sensitive palates than adults, and it is common to see children disliking some foods. During the times that children may be being fussy with their food, here are some tips to get the nutrition they may be missing;

  • Lead by example

    Role modelling has a very strong influence on children’s eating patterns. Eating similar food can have a big impact on children’s desire to eat and try new foods.

  • Presentation

    Children may dislike some food depending on how they’re presented. For example, dislike grated carrots, but approve of long ‘ribbon like’ slices created with a peeler. Try presenting a different way and see what grabs their attention.

  • Tips to introduce vegies!

    Grate vegetables into cooked meals.
    Add vegies into cooked meals such as pasta sauce.
    Frozen vegetables are just as healthy as fresh, so keep some handy in your freezer and put them in soups, casseroles, and pasta sauces for some extra nutrition.

  • Options

    Provide options rather than using food as a reward.
    If food is rejected, clear it away and try to offer it again later. Offer a choice of different types of food such as a piece of fruit or yoghurt. Or try offering food on different crockery for example, a sandwich on a colourful plate or a plain plate.

  • Regular times

    Try to offer meals and snacks at regular times

  • Make Food Fun

    Be creative! Cut vegies into fun shapes

  • Continue the trial of new foods

    Continue to encourage trial of new foods. Add one new vegetable or fruit to try with their favourite meal or dish

  • Don't give up

    Remember: Young children will eat when hungry. Don’t worry if they don’t eat straight away – they may not be hungry.