Children and calcium
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Lena Engel
Worked as an Ofsted Early Years Inspector for Kensington and Chelsea Borough. Supported teachers in schools to improve outcomes for children’s learning, and written for Nursery World Magazine. She trains, assesses and mentors early years practitioners, and offers advice and guidance to parents.
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Child nutrition

A good time to eat with children

Food plays a crucial role in children's lives. It enables them to refuel their bodies so they can play and learn efficiently. This means that for certain periods of the day we should concentrate on preparing and consuming food with our children. Eating is also a social experience valued in all cultures. It creates a good reason to sit together, to share ideas and thoughts, and to reflect on the events of the day. From the moment that babies sit up independently they should be initiated into the rituals of sharing meal times with parents and their brothers and sisters.
In Short
Encourage children's natural appetites and fullness cues with lots of fresh air and exercise and respect them when they say they are full.

Involve children in the buying, growing and preparing of food as they will be more motivated and interested in meals they've been involved in.

Try and eat meals together around a table so that you develop good eating habits, conversational skills and social and emotional development.

  • There is a window of opportunity between the age of 9 months and 18 months when babies are most open to new food and tastes. So take advantage of this period by offering lots of interesting foods from around the world.
  • Use simple fresh ingredients that are nutritious and easy to prepare.
  • Show a positive attitude towards the food you offer your child because children learn to like or dislike a taste by copying the behaviour of their parents.
  • Try not to disguise food for children. They will enjoy learning to distinguish and name vegetables, salads, fruit, cereals, fish and meat.
  • Present all foods attractively on central serving dishes so that they look appetising. Babies should be offered small amounts of food while older children should learn to help themselves as they will copy adults who also serve themselves. Take turns passing central dishes so that children learn how they can take as much or as little as they are prepared to eat. Learning as well that they are expected not to be greedy.
  • Plan mealtimes so that you have time to sit comfortably and eat with your children.
Don’t forget:
  • Encourage children to use eating utensils that suit their stage of fine motor control. For example, older children can have knives and forks, younger one’s spoons and babies can use their hands and spoons.
  • Ensure that water is available in jugs with cups or beakers so that from two years children learn to pour drinks for themselves – don’t make the jug too heavy.
  • Chat with children during the meal, shifting attention away from how much they eat. In most circumstances, children eat as much as they need without parents having to remind them to eat. Making food appetising and helping children take control of the amount they consume ensures that there are no unnecessary confrontations and helps develop satiety skills.
  • Ensure that children have high levels of physical activity balanced with calm periods of concentration and rest to promote a good appetite around mealtimes.
  • Children need to burn energy to build up a healthy appetite.
  • Playing outdoors and going for walks in the park ensures children breathe fresh air and exercise their muscles.
  • This exertion of energy will make them much more receptive to eating sensibly together and will provide lots to talk about at the dinner table.
  • Make meals nutritious and the experience of eating enjoyable, so children will grow up healthy and be able to make responsible choices about food.
  • Try to involve your children in the process of shopping for food, growing vegetables and fruit in the garden and learning to cook with you. Children enjoy the product of their labours and the praise you give them for helping prepare meals.

If you would like to contact Lena for one-on-one advice for children aged 0 – 19 years, please email her on

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.