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Healthy Eating for Children - Topic Overview

How can you help your child eat well and be healthy? continued...

Here are some ways you can help support your child's healthy eating habits:

  • Eat together as a family as often as possible. Keep family meals pleasant and positive. Avoid making comments about the amount or type of food your child eats. Pressure to eat actually reduces children's acceptance of new or different foods.
  • Make healthy food choices for your family's meals. Children notice the choices you make and follow your example.
  • Make meal times fairly predictable. Eat at around the same times every day and always at the table, even for snacks.
  • Have meals often enough (for example, about every 3 hours for toddlers) that your child doesn't get too hungry.
  • Offer only water between meals so that your child is as hungry as he or she can be for the next meal. When children are hungry, it's easier to get them to eat something they don't like a lot.
  • Do nothing else during the meal other than talking and enjoying each other—no TV or other distractions.

Here are some other ways you can help your child stay healthy:

  • Set limits on your child's daily television and computer time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting TV and other screen time to 2 hours or less a day.1 Sit down with your child and plan out how he or she will use this time allowance. It's best for children younger than 2 to not watch TV, watch movies, or play games on a screen.
  • Make physical activity a part of your family's daily life. For example, walk your child to and from school and take a walk after dinner. Teach your young child how to skip, hop, dance, play catch, ride a bike, and more. Encourage your older child to find his or her favorite ways to be active.
  • Take your child to all recommended well-child checkups. You can use this time to discuss with a doctor your child's growth rate, activity level, and eating habits.

What causes poor eating habits?

Poor eating habits can develop in otherwise healthy children for several reasons. Infants are born liking sweet tastes. But if babies are going to learn to eat a wide variety of basic foods, they need to learn to like other tastes, because many nutritious foods don't taste sweet.

  • Available food choices. If candy and soft drinks are always available, most children will choose these foods rather than a more nutritious snack. But forbidding these choices can make your child want them even more. You can include some less nutritious foods as part of your child's meals so that he or she learns to enjoy them along with other foods. Try to keep a variety of nutritious and appealing food choices available. Healthy and kid-friendly snack ideas include:
    • String cheese.
    • Whole wheat crackers and peanut butter.
    • Air-popped or low-fat microwave popcorn.
    • Frozen juice bars made with 100% real fruit.
    • Fruit and dried fruit.
    • Baby carrots with hummus or bean dip.
    • Low-fat yogurt with fresh fruit.
  • The need for personal choice. Power struggles between a parent and child can affect eating behavior. If children are pressured to eat a certain food, they are more likely to refuse to eat that food, even if it is something they usually would enjoy. Provide a variety of nutritious foods. Your child can decide what and how much he or she will eat from the choices you offer.
  • Emotion. A child's sadness, anxiety, or family crisis can cause undereating or overeating. If you think your child's emotions are affecting his or her eating, focus on resolving the problem that is causing the emotions instead of focusing on the eating behavior.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 27, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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