Every parent wants a healthy child and the key is getting healthy eating and active play right from the start.

The Infant Program, developed by the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University, supports parents to develop knowledge and skills to get children involved in active play and eating healthily.

It is all about getting good habits set up from the start, which is much easier than trying to change habits once they’ve developed, so the earlier parents can start, the better.

In their early years infants and toddlers are hard-wiring their brains about foods they’ll enjoy and physical skills they’ll maintain across their life. It is also a time when parents need support and are after some basic day to day strategies that help them make healthy choices for their children.

Children learn their food habits and preferences early in life making this a very important time for parents to get great advice and support.  Feeding is one area that confuses a lot of parents but help is at hand.

Healthy eating tips:

• Babies are ready to eat foods at around six months of age.

• It is important to try and relax and embrace the challenges of first foods and the mess!

• Don’t give up trying to offer your children foods they don’t like – it typically takes 10 attempts before children will accept a new food.

• Children model their behaviour on their parents so enjoy mealtimes together as often as you can and remember that if you show you don’t like broccoli they probably won’t like it either!

• Provide a healthy range of foods and let your child decide if to eat them  and how much to eat.

• The more you fuss about food, the more they will fuss – so try not to make a fuss at mealtimes!

• Snacks are really mini-meals so give your child an opportunity to eat from a variety of foods such as vegetables, fruit, grains and dairy.

• Colour every meal with fruit and vegetables and give your child the best chance of learning to love a wide range of health promoting fruits and vegies.

• Fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables are all great choices.

• Offer water regularly and ensure it is always readily available – take that water bottle with you wherever you go.

• Avoid offering fruit juice, cordial, soft drink and other sweetened drinks.

When it comes to active play, it’s easy to assume young children are naturally active enough. They certainly tire their parents out! Yet it is all too easy for children to learn to prefer screens like television and playing on mum or dad’s phone. Often parents find it hard to know what or how to play with their baby or toddler.

Great active play tips:

• Babies learn about the world by playing

• As your baby starts to crawl, challenge them with different surfaces and obstacles to crawl over. Do the same when they start to walk.

• Find some time for active play with your child each day. Playing with your child helps develop their brain and body and is great for bonding.

• Provide a range of active play opportunities and let your child decide which activities to engage in.

• Have toys accessible that encourage movement like balls, toys on wheels (trucks, pull along toys).

• Music is a great way to encourage children to have fun and move around.

• Television and other screens (computers, iPads, mum and dad’s phone) are not recommended at all for children under two years of age.

• Children model their behaviour on their parents so try to limit your own screen time .

• When the TV is off, your child has more opportunity to be off and running!

• Active play for toddlers is very important for their physical, mental and social development. It helps them learn how to interact and share with others, improves communication skills and builds self confidence.

For more great tips and information on healthy eating and active play for children aged 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, 15 months, 18 months, toddlers (and even for grown-ups!) visit www.infantprogram.org 

By Associate Professor Karen Campbell and Associate Professor Kylie Hesketh from the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) at Deakin University developed the Infant Program.