Hello there, parents! As a children’s dietitian, I often get asked why children tend to eat better at nursery than they do at home. Well, in this blog I’ve got the answer for you!
Here are ten reasons why your little ones may be gobbling up their meals at nursery:
1. They’re in a social environment
Eating together with their peers encourages children to try new foods and eat more. Eating is a social activity, and this is especially true for young children. When children are surrounded by their peers during mealtime, they are more likely to try new foods and eat more than they would if they were eating alone or with just their family. This is because children often model their behaviour after those around them, especially their friends. If they see their friends eating and enjoying a particular food, they are more likely to give it a try themselves.
This positive social atmosphere can create a sense of community around mealtime, which can make children feel more comfortable and relaxed, and ultimately lead to better eating habits. Eating together with others can help children develop important social skills such as sharing, taking turns, and practicing good manners.
Overall, eating in a social environment can have a significant impact on children’s eating habits, encouraging them to try new foods, eat more, and develop important social skills. So, if you’re struggling to get your child to eat at home, consider inviting their friends over for a meal or setting up a playdate during lunchtime. This could make a big difference in their willingness to eat and enjoy their food.
2. Role modelling:
Children often mimic what they see others do, and seeing their friends eat a variety of foods can encourage them to do the same. At nursery, children are surrounded by their peers who may be more willing to try new foods and eat a variety of healthy options. This positive eating behaviour can be contagious and can inspire children to do the same. Children may also look up to nursery staff as role models for healthy eating habits. When nursery staff model healthy eating behaviours, children are more likely to adopt these habits themselves.
Furthermore, when children see their friends or nursery staff members eating and enjoying a particular food, they are more likely to want to try it themselves. This can be especially helpful for children who are picky eaters or reluctant to try new foods. Seeing their peers or role models eat and enjoy a particular food can make it seem less intimidating and more appealing to the child.
At nursery, meals and snacks are typically served at the same time each day, creating a structured routine that can help regulate children’s appetites. This routine can be helpful for children who may struggle with overeating or undereating, as it can help to establish a consistent eating schedule and promote a healthy appetite.
Having a routine around mealtime can also help children develop a sense of predictability and comfort, as they know what to expect at mealtime. This can make mealtime a more positive experience for children, which can lead to better eating habits.
In addition, a structured routine can help to ensure that children are getting the appropriate amount of nutrients and energy they need throughout the day. For example, if children have a balanced breakfast before heading off to nursery, they are more likely to have the energy they need to participate in activities throughout the day. A balanced lunch can also provide the necessary nutrients to sustain them through the afternoon.
Nursery menus often offer a wider variety of foods than what children may be exposed to at home, helping to expand their taste preferences. This exposure to new foods can help to broaden children’s palates and encourage them to try new things. Nurseries often serve a range of different foods and may offer different options on a rotating basis, providing children with a diverse selection of foods to try. This exposure to new foods can be particularly helpful for children who are picky eaters or who have limited diets, as it can help to expand their range of acceptable foods.
In addition, nurseries may also incorporate different cultural foods into their menus, providing children with a greater understanding and appreciation of different cultures and cuisines. This can help to broaden children’s horizons and encourage them to try new foods from different cultures. nurseries may involve children in the meal planning and preparation process, allowing them to explore different foods and learn about healthy eating habits. This can be a fun and engaging activity for children and can also help to increase their interest in trying new foods.
Nurseries often pay special attention to the presentation of food, as this can have a significant impact on children’s willingness to try new foods and their overall enjoyment of the meal. By presenting food in an attractive and visually appealing way, nurseries can help to stimulate children’s interest in the food and encourage them to try it. This can be particularly helpful for children who are picky eaters or who may be hesitant to try new foods.
Nurseries may use a variety of techniques to make food more visually appealing, such as using bright colours, fun shapes, or arranging the food in an aesthetically pleasing way. For example, a fruit salad may be arranged in a rainbow pattern, or a sandwich may be cut into a fun shape such as a star or heart. Presentation can also be used as a way to teach children about portion sizes and the importance of balance in their diet. For example, nurseries may use smaller plates and bowls to encourage appropriate portion sizes, or they may provide a variety of different food groups in appropriate proportions to promote balanced eating.
6. Positive reinforcement:
Nursery staff often use positive language and encouragement to motivate children to eat, which can boost their confidence and willingness to try new foods.
Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool that nurseries can use to encourage children to make healthy food choices. Positive reinforcement involves rewarding desirable behaviour to encourage it to be repeated in the future. When it comes to eating habits, this means rewarding children for making healthy food choices or trying new foods. There are many ways that nurseries can use positive reinforcement to encourage healthy eating habits. For example, they may use stickers, certificates, or other small rewards to acknowledge children’s efforts to make healthy choices at mealtime. Alternatively, they may use verbal praise or positive feedback to encourage and reinforce positive eating habits.
Distractions can be a major barrier to healthy eating habits among children. Distractions can take many forms, from electronic devices and toys to engaging in other activities during mealtimes. When children are distracted during mealtimes, they are less likely to pay attention to their food and more likely to make unhealthy food choices or overeat. This can be particularly problematic for children who are picky eaters or who struggle to maintain healthy eating habits.
Nurseries can take steps to reduce distractions during mealtimes and encourage children to focus on their food. For example, they may implement a “no screens” policy during mealtime, encouraging children to put away electronic devices and focus on their meal. Alternatively, they may provide simple and engaging activities, such as colouring or drawing, to keep children occupied during meals without distracting them from their food. In addition to reducing distractions, nurseries can also use mealtimes as an opportunity to teach children about healthy eating habits and good table manners. This can help to reinforce positive eating habits and make mealtimes more enjoyable and engaging for children.
8. Peer pressure:
Peer pressure can have a significant impact on children’s eating habits, both positively and negatively. Children are often influenced by the eating habits and food choices of their peers, and may be more likely to make healthy or unhealthy food choices based on the behaviour of their friends or classmates.
In a nursery setting, peer pressure can be a powerful tool for promoting healthy eating habits among children. By encouraging healthy eating habits and modelling healthy food choices among all children, nurseries can create a culture of healthy eating that encourages children to make positive food choices.
Independence is an important aspect of promoting healthy eating habits among children. When children feel empowered to make their own food choices and take ownership of their meals, they are more likely to make healthy food choices and develop positive eating habits that will benefit them throughout their lives.
In a nursery setting, promoting independence can involve giving children a sense of control over their food choices and encouraging them to make healthy choices on their own. For example, nurseries may provide children with a variety of healthy food options and encourage them to choose the foods that they enjoy. They may also encourage children to serve themselves and to take responsibility for their own portion sizes.
By promoting independence, nurseries can help to instil a sense of confidence and self-efficacy in children when it comes to making healthy food choices. Children who feel empowered to make their own food choices are more likely to view healthy eating as a positive and enjoyable experience, rather than something that is imposed upon them by adults.
Exposure is a critical component of promoting healthy eating habits among children. Research has shown that children may need to be exposed to a new food as many as 10-15 times before they will accept and enjoy it. By providing regular exposure to a variety of healthy foods, nurseries can help to expand children’s palates and encourage them to develop positive eating habits.
In a nursery setting, exposure can involve providing a wide variety of healthy food options and encouraging children to try new foods. This may involve incorporating a variety of fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, and proteins into meals and snacks, as well as providing opportunities for children to sample new foods and flavours. Overall, exposure is a key factor in promoting healthy eating habits among children. By providing regular exposure to a variety of healthy foods and incorporating new foods into familiar dishes, nurseries can help to expand children’s palates and encourage them to develop positive eating habits that will benefit them throughout their lives.
Here are some tips on how parents can replicate the strategies used in nurseries to promote healthy eating habits at home:
1. Provide a variety of healthy food options:
Like nurseries, parents can offer a variety of healthy food options at home. This can include a variety of fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, and proteins.
2. Encourage independence:
Parents can encourage independence by allowing children to make their own food choices and encouraging them to take ownership of their meals. For example, parents can provide healthy options for snacks and meals and allow children to choose which foods they would like to eat.
3. Use positive reinforcement:
Parents can use positive reinforcement to encourage healthy eating habits at home. This can involve praising children when they make healthy food choices and offering rewards or incentives for trying new foods.
4. Minimize distractions:
Just like nurseries, parents can minimize distractions during mealtimes by turning off the TV and other electronic devices. This can help children to focus on their food and develop healthy eating habits.
5. Use peer pressure to your advantage:
Parents can use peer pressure to their advantage by encouraging children to eat healthy foods alongside their friends or siblings. This can help to normalize healthy eating habits and make them more appealing to children.
6. Promote independence:
Parents can promote independence by giving children a sense of control over their food choices and encouraging them to make healthy choices on their own. This can involve allowing children to serve themselves and take responsibility for their own portion sizes.
7. Provide regular exposure to new foods:
Just like nurseries, parents can provide regular exposure to new foods by offering a variety of healthy options and incorporating new foods into familiar dishes. It can take multiple exposures before a child is willing to try and enjoy a new food, so it’s important to be patient and persistent.
By using these strategies, parents can help to promote healthy eating habits and expand their child’s palate. By creating a positive and supportive environment around food, children can develop lifelong healthy eating habits that will benefit them throughout their lives.
Need more support?
Check out our:
- Recorded or Live Fussy Eating Masterclass. Dr. Kirsty presents an interactive, informative and practical session to help you make mealtimes fun and get your kids to trial new foods. You will leave the session with a range of actions you can instantly begin to implement to help you master feeding your child.
- Online Mastering Fussy Eating course. This online course aims to equip you with the skills and confidence to guide you understand your child’s eating, reduce mealtime stress and build your child’s confidence with new foods. After you complete this course you will have so much more knowledge, confidence and peace of mind.
- Dr Kirsty can also provide one-to-one consultations to help your child and address any specific challenges you may be experiencing feeding your child.
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Written by Dr Kirsty Porter