Healthy eating questions

Move Well Eat Well is a whole school and service approach for ALL children, but are you thinking or
talking about these more complex issues?

Here are some of the more complex questions and answers that are being asked by teachers, educators and families.

This information has been supplied by the Tasmanian Department of Health, Public Health Services. .

How long should it take my child to eat a meal or snack?

There is no ideal length of time for eating meals and snacks as every child is different. Try not to compare your child’s eating to other children.

It is important to help your child listen to their natural hunger cues. When children eat slowly, this allows them time to check in with their hunger cues while eating. This will help them to eat the right amount of food, without over eating.

It’s important to understand why your child might be a slow eater. If you are concerned about your child eating slowly, here are some things you can do:

  • Children eating slowly can be a sign that they are full, or do not like the food offered. Try to remember that it is the child’s responsibility to decide on how much, and which foods they eat (selected from the food you offer).
  • Some children eat slowly to keep themselves full before bedtime. Try offering your child an everyday food snack before bed to prevent hunger throughout the night.
  • Children can eat slowly when they are distracted during meal and snack times. Try to make meal times less distracting by switching off all screens and removing toys from the table.

Help! I'm running out of lunchbox ideas!

Packing lunchboxes can be hard when you are running out of inspiration. For young children the best tip is to keep it simple and for older children, they may become more adventurous in their choices.

It is important to include everyday foods from the five food groups. Children need enough food in their lunchbox to help them grow, develop and learn. The amount they eat may increase as they grow.

The basic steps for packing a varied lunchbox are:

  • Pack a main lunch item – this can be anything from dinner leftovers, a soup or a sandwich
  • Pack vegetables and fruit. Some schools have a set fruit and vegetable break
  • Pack some snacks like cheese and crackers, dips, popcorn or meatballs.  How much and which snacks you send will depend on your own child.
  • Pack a water bottle.

Check out these great lunchbox ideas by Healthy Kids for some more inspiration.

Remember, if food comes home in your child’s lunchbox, it may have been because they were not as hungry that day or playtime was more important than eating. It pays to pack that food a few more times to give them a chance to try it.

What could I send to school or day care to celebrate my child's birthday?

Celebrating children’s birthdays is an important part of building classroom culture and forming friendships. Often, birthdays are celebrated by sharing a piece of birthday cake. Here are some other celebration food ideas that can help children feel special on their day:

  • Pack a fruit and vegetable platter to share with the classroom
  • Fruit kebabs with yoghurt dip
  • Small cupcakes, made with fruit and/or vegetables
  • Plain air popped popcorn in paper bags

You can also try some non-food ways to celebrate your child’s birthday, have a chat with your teacher or educator about:

  • Organising an outdoor activity your child likes to play
  • Sending in some craft supplies to make a birthday card for your child
  • Discussing if there is a special task your child can do on their birthday.

Should schools be checking students' lunchboxes?

Move Well Eat Well does not encourage school staff to 'check' or 'police' students' lunchboxes or make comments or judgements about the type of food provided.  Children often have little control over what food is sent from home.  Singling children out can embarrass them and introduce a fear of food which may lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, body image concerns, dieting and disordered eating.  Equally, making comments about the amount of food a student is eating, pressuring children to eat more or less or rewarding children for the amount of food they have eaten can teach children to not trust their appetite and set up an unhealthy relationship with food.

Rather than focusing on individual students and their eating habits, Move Well Eat Well encourages schools to create a supportive school environment by role modelling and developing routines that make healthy eating and physical activity a normal part of every day for everyone.  Schools can support all children to eat well by:

  • Using the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating as a reference when teaching about food and eating. This reinforces that all foods can be included sometimes or in small amounts in a healthy balanced diet.
  • Using neutral language  when talking about food so that students can learn about balance, variety and moderation, without any fear or guilt. It is best not to label food, but rather talk about the foods we need to eat everyday and the foods that we sometimes, in a safe way.
  • Providing students with dedicated time to sit down and eat without them feeling like they will miss out on play time.  Allowing enough time and providing a relaxed environment can help children focus on eating and recognise when they have had enough to eat.
  • Providing families with practical ideas on how to include a variety of everyday foods from the five food groups in their children's lunchbox. Share lunchbox information in the school newsletter, put up lunchbox displays and encourage families to access the Move Well Eat Well website

How do I know what information to trust about food?

The wonderful thing about the internet is that it gives us quick and easy access to information, but it can also be difficult to know what information is reliable.

When you’re trying to decide if it is information you can trust, some key things to look out for include:

  • Check the web address. Look for websites that end in .org or .gov.
  • Who has written the information? Look for health professionals or government bodies that have written the information.
  • Avoid anything that sounds too good to be true; Watch out for words like “miracle” and “magical”.
  • Avoid companies that are trying to sell you a product.
  • Steer clear of recipes that claim “good”, “bad”, “guilt free”, “healthy treat”.

Some good sources of nutrition information for children, with reliable information you can trust, include:

All MWEW schools and early childcare service are encouraged to seek support from our team of dietitians.

When I'm shopping at the supermarket, how do I choose everyday foods for my child?

With new products landing on supermarket shelves daily, it is impossible to keep up with knowing which foods are for everyday and which foods are for eating sometimes.

Everyday foods can be found throughout the entire store, which can make shopping take a long time. This also means, shoppers can’t rely on sticking to particular isles at the supermarket to make shopping easier.

The best way to choose everyday foods for your child, is to choose foods from the five food groups.

The five food groups are:

  • Vegetables and legumes/beans
  • Fruit
  • Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties
  • Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans
  • Milk, yoghurt cheese and/or alternatives, mostly reduced fat.

It can also be useful to understand food labels and nutrient claims. Navigating food labels at the supermarket can be a challenge. What do you look for? How do you compare products? And how do you know if a food is an everyday food?  This handy guide for reading labels will help you with your food choices.

Some "treats" are OK for kids, but how often is too often?

We know restricting sometimes foods too much can lead to them becoming more desirable. On the other hand, too many sometimes foods are not good for our health and make it hard to fit in more nourishing foods. The foods that we should eat in small amounts are those that are high in sugar, saturated fat and/or salt. Some examples include sweet biscuits, cakes, chips and sweetened drinks.

But how often is “too often?” and when should families say no to these foods? It is important to not eat these foods every day. It is still your responsibility as the parent to offer foods you feel comfortable with and it is your child’s role to choose how much of that food they eat.

Some parents and families can feel nervous about offering these foods sometimes, but it is important to role model to your children how to manage these foods. Some key tips for doing that are:

  • Keep language around food neutral. Try to avoid using words like “good” and “bad”.
  • Provide opportunities for children to learn about sometimes foods. It is the parents role to decide how often they eat them.
  • Don’t use sometimes foods as rewards, bribes or for comfort.
  • Include sometimes foods alongside other foods we eat everyday.
  • Sit down and enjoy sometimes foods with children.
  • Talk about how all food tastes and how it makes us feel.
  • Learn when and how to say no to these foods.
  • Accept that sometimes children will eat more than we think is an appropriate amount. Trust that they will learn how to manage this themselves.
  • Remember that if children have not had these foods before, it will take time for them to learn to eat these foods slowly.

Help! My child doesn't drink water. What can I do?

Making water the main drink for your family is not always easy. To help your family drink water daily, it helps to normalise it by:

  • Role model drinking water yourself. Children will want to drink what their parents drink
  • Offer water when children get up in the morning as their first drink
  • Make it easy for your child to help themselves to water at home - keep a cup or water bottle on the table or bench
  • Put cups of water on the table at mealtimes and snack time
  • Ask for water to drink at the table when out for a meal with friends and family
  • Take water bottles for you and your children when you go out.

By making water fun, you can help encourage your child to drink more water. Some ideas to make drinking water fun are:

  • Offer water in a colourful cup or with a metal straw
  • Try a new water bottle
  • Try adding ice cubes or offering chilled water
  • Add frozen fruit pieces to water for a bit of colour.

I've heard a lot about "eating a rainbow". What does it mean?

Eat the rainbow is a phrase used to encourage variety and colour in fruit and vegetables we eat.

It is important to eat fruits and vegetables every day. They contain nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibre.

To make sure you and your children are eating a wide range of nutrients found in fruit and vegetables, remember to eat a variety of colours. The naturally occurring chemicals, known as phytochemicals, give vegetables and fruit their bright colours and help keep us healthy.

Eating a rainbow of colourful vegetables and fruits everyday will help children grow and develop. Some different coloured vegetables and fruits are:

  • RED = tomato, capsicum, radish, watermelon, strawberry, apple
  • WHITE = cauliflower, potato, onion, mushrooms,
  • GREEN = spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts, pear, grapes, kiwi fruit, peas
  • BLUE/PURPLE = red cabbage, eggplant, blueberry, plum, beetroot
  • ORANGE/YELLOW = carrot, corn, sweet potato, swede, orange, banana, peach, pumpkin, pineapple, mango.

My child is talking about going on a diet. Is this OK? What can I do about it?

Dieting can be harmful for children and adolescents and it can affect their growth, development and mental wellbeing. Often, children who are thinking about dieting have a negative body image of themselves which can lead to low self-esteem, low self-confidence and disordered eating.

Parents and families can play an important role in helping children develop a positive relationship with food and their bodies. By taking care in what we say and do as parents and caregivers, we can teach our children to be confident in their own body.

If your child is asking about going on a diet, it is important to address the question calmly and with curiosity. It may be that they don’t want to go on a diet, but it is something they are curious about.

Here are some things you can do to help your child build a positive relationship with their body:

Be aware of warning signs.

  • Skipping meals
  • Avoiding eating with the rest of the family
  • Frequently checking their body
  • Changes in their mood, sleeping patterns or appetite
  • Low self-esteem or negative self-talk about their bodies.

Role model a positive relationship with food and your body

  • Speak kindly about your own body, and other people’s bodies
  • Show your child how you enjoy eating and moving your body
  • Speak to your child about strengths, skills and qualities more than appearance.

What type of milk should my child drink?

From 12 months of age, it is recommended that children drink full cream milk. This is because they have higher energy needs as they continue to grow and are active toddlers. They also need the vitamins A,D,E and K (rich in full cream milk) because their diet isn’t as varied at this age.

Reduced-fat milk is rich in calcium, protein and vitamins but it is lower in fat than full cream milk. Children from the age of two have a more varied diet and can get enough fat and vitamins from food.  Because of this, the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends choosing reduced-fat dairy products (including milk) from two years of age. However, you may still choose to offer your child full cream milk some of the time.

But doesn’t reduced-fat milk have more sugar? Lactose is the natural milk sugar which is found in milk but it is listed as “sugars” on a food label. Ordinary table sugar is also labelled under this term. Reduced fat milk has some or most of the fat taken out of it. When you remove the fat from the whole milk, the remaining contents become more concentrated, this is why the “sugars” may increase slightly on the food label

How can I reward my child without using food?

Using food as a bribe to complete a task or as a reward for good behaviour can teach children that food is a reward. This can make some foods seem more desirable. For example, bribing them with pizza for dinner if they finish their homework.

Using foods as a bribe to finish eating teaches children that there are “good “ v.s. “bad” foods, and if they eat all of the “good foods” they will be rewarded. This can make eating feel like a chore. For example, rewarding your child with ice-cream for dessert if they eat all their vegetables. This pressure at meal times can also cause the child to not listen to their natural hunger cues, and possibly over eat.

It is important to help children develop a healthy relationship with food. By using food as a reward, it can cause an unhealthy relationship with food later on in life. It is best to allow children to feel relaxed and be neutral when talking about all kinds of foods. When children are relaxed about all food types, they can eat any food with a sensible approach, even when unsupervised.

That does not mean that good behaviour cannot be recognised. Try non-food rewards such as:

  • 15 minutes extra reading time of bedtime stories
  • A trip to the library to choose a new book to read
  • Plan a bike ride or walk to their favourite playground
  • Organise a playdate with their friend
  • Allow an extra 15 minutes of outside play
  • Take the family for a picnic
  • Plan a craft afternoon where the child chooses the project.

How can I build positive body image in my students?

It is important students know that every body is respected. A positive body image is about respecting your body whatever its shape, size or colour. It is important to enjoy what your body can do and feel because when we feel good about our body, we are more likely to care for it.

Teachers have a lot of influence on how children develop. The way teachers feel and talk about their own and others bodies can have a big impact on their students’ self-esteem and feelings about their body. It also influences how students talk to others about bodies.

“Body talk” (talking about appearance) can send the message to children that what you look like is more valuable than what you can do. By taking care in what we say and do, we can teach our students to be confident in their own body and respectful of other students.

Some key tips are:

  • Reduce “body talk”, whether it is about your own body or someone else’s.
  • Focus on what your body (and what other bodies) can do, rather than physical appearance.
    For example, "I love being able to run long distances” or “That was a big kick of the ball, great job”
  • Talk about strengths, skills and qualities rather than appearance. 
    For example, "I am good at cooking" or "She is kind to others” or “It’s nice to see how well you and your friends are playing together”

How do I talk about food with students without doing harm?

We all want to give our students a healthy start in life and teach them to care for themselves. We know children need food that will help them to grow healthy and strong. But having a healthy approach to eating is not just about the foods we eat for nourishment.  Having a healthy approach to eating involves healthy eating behaviours, which includes the relationship we have with food and our bodies, along with the foods we eat and how and why we eat.

A simple way to reassure yourself and your students is to think, “every food has a place”. This means that no food needs to be completely off limits. We need to eat foods from the five food groups every day to get a variety of nutrients to grow well. The five food groups are vegetables and legumes, fruit, breads and cereals, lean meat and alternatives, dairy foods (milk, yogurt and cheese) or alternatives. A nice way to discuss this with students is the importance of eating different coloured foods from the five food groups.

Some key tips are:

  • Role model eating a variety of foods
  • Try packing a lunch box with a variety of foods from the 5 food groups
  • Talk positively about all foods and try not to talk about any food in a shaming or negative way
  • Instead of saying “Soft drink is unhealthy as it is full of sugar” you could say, “Water is the best drink because it is a great thirst quencher”.
  • Try to avoid labelling foods
  • Stay away from words like “good” & “bad” or “healthy” & “unhealthy”