A well-balanced diet helps babies develop optimally and fosters the health of the whole family. What healthy eating means changes a lot over the baby’s first 1000 days: it begins with the mother’s nutrition and then involves breastfeeding, discovering the first foods and then participating in family meals.
• Balanced diet in terms of quantity and quality
• Eating a variety of foods
• Respecting the signals that our body is hungry or full
Cooking is something mothers and fathers do for their family. By preparing dishes designed especially for them and their children, parents look after the whole family’s health and well-being. Cooking also reduces food costs, and it often means eating more nutritious foods.
It’s a great gift to children to expose them to food preparation and to let them participate in cooking, even when they are very young. When they are exposed to cooking early, children have a greater chance of developing an interest in meal preparation. Having children observe and participate in cooking also contributes to the development of cooking skills, which will give them a stronger foundation for adult life.
• Preparing meals and snacks from fresh, frozen or canned foods (and limiting the use of ready-to-eat foods)
• Introducing even very young children to food observation, handling and preparation
• Optimizing the budget by planning meals around reduced-price food or leftovers and surpluses
Eating meals as a family fosters healthy and balanced nutrition by encouraging the eating of fruit and vegetables, milk and substitutes, and whole grain products. Family meals are also associated with decreased use of ready-to-eat and fried foods, sugary drinks, sweets and fats.
Eating together leads to more appropriate lifestyle and dietary behaviours, including higher rates of eating breakfast, fewer eating disorders and drug or alcohol problems, and a reduced risk of excess weight and obesity.
Mealtime also improves family unity by supporting better relationships among family members, strengthening feelings of belonging and family values, and reducing stress and tension.
In these ways, family meals improve child development at the emotional, physical and motor, social and moral, cognitive and language levels.