Promoting healthy eating in the early years

Baby eating in high chair

It can sometimes be a real struggle trying to encourage young children to try new foods. They are often creatures of habit who prefer to stick to foods that they know and like. However, this could result in the development of selective eating habits later down the line.

By having a few tried and tested strategies up your sleeve, you can encourage your children to become more adventurous with foods. We have listed below a few ideas that we use in our nurseries to encourage healthy eating habits that you can also try at home. 

Using real food in role play

When we were children ourselves, we were always told not to play with our food. However, times have changed, and children are being encouraged to play with real objects, including food items to help them to develop a greater understanding of the world around them.

Here at Ashbourne Day Nurseries, we are strong advocates of using natural resources and real objects in place of plastic toys.

We believe that children learn best from real experiences. This means that when our children choose to take part in cooking role play, they use real vegetables, saucepans, and utensils. 

Growing their own

Involving children in the planting, growing, and harvesting of produce is a fantastic way to encourage them to try new fruits and vegetables. Learning early on about where different foods come from helps children to build the foundations for lifelong healthy eating habits.

Our Swanbourne Nursery is based on a farm where the children are able to see the cows and learn about where milk and cheese come from. The nursery also has its own allotment which the children visit on a regular basis to plant and pick their own fruits and vegetables to enjoy at snack time.

Many of our nurseries grow their own fruit, vegetables, and herbs in their gardens. Even just a few strawberry plants or visiting a pick-your-own farm once the pandemic is over can entice children to be interested in where their food comes from and to try something new. 

Let's get cooking

Encouraging children to have an interest in preparing and cooking meals at a young age can help them to develop a more adventurous palate.

Some examples of tasks that young children can do depending on age and ability include adding ingredients to the bowl, stirring the ingredients together, tearing lettuce for a salad and adding their own toppings to their pizza.

The kitchen at our day nursery in Princes Risborough is based within the pre-school room. This means that the children are able to sit at the breakfast bar and watch the chef while he prepares their lunch and snacks. The chef will talk to the children about what he is making and will even let them help if it is safe and appropriate for their age and ability.

It goes without saying, but for health and safety reasons a responsible adult should always supervise children when they are helping to cook and prepare food. 

Make something to drink

While smoothies and fruit juices should never be relied upon to make up a child’s intake of fruits and vegetables, the occasional cup can be a healthy and delicious treat.

There are loads of child-friendly smoothie recipes that you could try to suit all tastes and preferences.

Set up a fun learning opportunity for your children by encouraging them to make their own orange juice under supervision with pre-sliced oranges. 

Make food fun

Creating a fun atmosphere is one of the best ways to encourage children to try new types of food. Encourage children to use their imagination to give foods silly names. Research suggests that children are much more likely to eat foods that have inventive names.

By making food into a child’s favourite animal or shape you can make it a fun experience for them rather than a boring chore where they are itching to get back to the fun happening elsewhere. You do not necessarily need to be creative in order to achieve this, anyone can create appetising fun foods that children will enjoy.

Even just cutting food into different shapes with cookie cutters can encourage children to take a bite.

One fun example is to use slices of apples and cucumber to create a “caterpillar” finished off with raspberry “flowers”. This is a great opportunity to also promote the importance of sharing and being considerate of others.

Another fun idea to try is to freeze chopped fruit in ice lolly moulds for a healthy ice lolly treat. 


While we want to make sure that the children in our care enjoy a varied diet, it is vital that children do not feel pressured to eat things that they are not sure about. Children could be put off if they feel forced to try something.

Be sure not to make a fuss and offer children a selection of foods to try together with their friends. They will be much more likely to try something if someone is eating the same things.

Instilling healthy habits in children while they are young will lead to a lifetime of healthy eating.