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Tips for Teaching Children Healthy Eating Habits

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 09, 2021

Teaching children to eat well greatly increases their chances for better health in childhood and throughout their lives. Good nutrition is an important practice and while it might be difficult to learn at first, your child will need this knowledge as they grow into adolescence and adulthood.

Some tips for regulating and managing eating habits also don’t have to do with mealtime at all. You may find a variety of these strategies helpful in your home.

Schedule Meals

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring or complicated. There are many ways to make eating fun, simple, and delicious, and planning to make time to eat is a great start.

Lead by example. If your child sees you maintaining good habits, then they will likely want to follow suit and will have a better idea of how to eat healthily.

Make mealtime a bonding experience. Eating can be a great communal way to connect. Sharing nutritious food in a meal setting centers family time around healthy habits for everyone. It sets a schedule for eating and teaches children about sharing, too.

Stick to the schedule. Having a regular schedule helps your child eat more balanced, full-rounded meals instead of snacking all day or late into the night. If you and your family eat dinner at an earlier hour, it might help your child sleep better as well.

Plan Balanced Meals

Thinking carefully about the foods you offer your child will help them learn good nutritional decision-making. Here are a few tips to keep in mind. 

Balance the plate. When you look at your child’s plate, half the space on the plate should be taken up by fruits and veggies, and the other half should be grains and proteins. 

  • Vegetables or fruits. Aim to use a variety whenever possible. There should be lots of color on your plate.
  • Quality grains. Reach more often for whole grains. The less processed they are, the better. Things like brown rice, quinoa, and whole-wheat pasta are great. You can also incorporate meat into this half of the plate.  
  • Protein. When it comes to animal-based protein, limit red meats or overly processed meats like bacon or hot dogs. Turkey, chicken, and fish are great examples of healthy meat proteins. If you or your child are vegetarian, you can use beans, lentils, or other legumes instead for a source of protein. 

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Choose fats carefully. Milk, cheese, and other dairy products do have a fair amount of vitamins and can be beneficial, but they are often processed and contain high amounts of fat. Add these into your child’s diet in moderation.

Focus on using healthy fats like olive, corn, and sunflower oil to better get in a balanced amount of fat. 

Drink lots of water. Water should be the most common beverage in your child’s diet. It will keep them hydrated with no disadvantage. Make sure to keep bottled water on hand for your children so that they can reach for it as soon as they’re thirsty. This will help to develop a habit early. 

Limit juices and other drinks. Sugary beverages like store-bought juices or sports drinks have little nutritional benefit but plenty of unnecessary additives, sugars, and calories. It is recommended to limit juice to one cup a day for most children and opt to give them whole fruits instead. 

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Leave some room for choice. Becoming overly involved in what your child eats can sometimes backfire, and it doesn’t teach your child habits in the long run. Let them have a choice in what they eat to build their confidence around good habits. 

Sometimes your child might not like everything you put in front of them. Other times, they may not finish everything on their plate, even foods they’ve liked before. It's important to accept this.  Letting them decide what they do and do not like will help to avoid feelings of pressure or force.

Make Nutrition Part of a Healthy Lifestyle

Eating well isn’t the only good habit you’ll want to teach your kids. Nutrition and exercise work together. 

Encourage activity. Encourage your kids to get at least an hour of physical activity a day. It's good for their bodies, minds, and if done on a regular schedule, it can help the child feel hungry at certain times.

If you’re just starting trying to teach your child about healthy eating and lifestyle choices, some of the key things you can do to help your child form healthy eating habits are:

  • Model habits for them through communal meals.
  • Diversify the vegetables, proteins, and grains you eat.
  • Limit dairy, fats, sugar, and drinks that are not water.
  • Eat on a regular schedule.
  • Keep your child active.

Some of these changes might take longer or be more challenging than others. Work step by step, and don’t get discouraged with yourself or your child. All habits take time to form and can be achieved with practice and patience.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “5 Do’s and Don’ts for Raising a Healthy Eater.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Tips to Help Children Maintain a Healthy Weight.”

Harvard School for Public Health: Kid’s Healthy Eating Plate.”

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