6 Ways to Win Kids to Healthier Food

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 08, 2022
5 min read

It can be tough getting kids to eat healthfully when you're on vacation or dashing between sports practice, school, and family errands.

The next time fast-food signs loom and you've got a car full of kids clamoring for junk food, win them over to eating right with these five tips.

Whether you're eating on the run or running out to eat, you can find healthy food for the kids (and yourself) if you make advance plans. Try these do-ahead strategies to improve your child's eating habits.

Make time for breakfast. Give your family a good start with the most important meal of the day. Breakfast helps boost concentration in the boardroom or classroom, may aid in maintaining a healthy weight, and provides the energy needed for morning activities. These tips can help you make sure breakfast is part of your child's healthy diet.

  • Get ready the night before. Set out bowls, spoons, and cereal boxes. Or put out plates and forks, then whip up a few eggs first thing in the morning.
  • Keep it simple. If you or the kids aren't hungry in the morning, make breakfast small and simple. Eat a banana or apple with a handful of nuts, or pop open a small tub of yogurt.
  • Prepare something to take with you. Toss pre-sliced fruit and cheese into a plastic container, make a peanut butter and banana sandwich, top a toasted bagel with hummus, or blend up a fruit smoothie.
  • Grab some leftovers. A slice of veggie pizza tastes just as good for breakfast as it did the night before. So does a cup of pasta with roasted veggies.

Pack healthy snacks that kids can manage themselves, including shelf-stable foods and fresh foods. (Pack a cooler if you have the time.) Kid-friendly, healthy foods can include:

  • Trail mix
  • Fresh, easy-to-eat produce like apples, bananas, and grapes
  • Dried fruit such as cranberries, raisins, apricots, apples, and pineapple
  • Low-sugar granola bars
  • Whole-grain crackers with peanut butter
  • Pre-packaged cheese wedges
  • Single-serving containers of yogurt
  • Easy-to-eat veggies like red pepper, carrots, or celery sticks
  • Dried cereal you've packed into single-serving containers

Before eating out. Make it easier to find restaurants that serve healthy food for kids by knowing where you're going before you get there. Instead of driving around looking for inspiration, pick the restaurant in advance. Focus on places with healthy options like Asian restaurants, salad bars, and seafood places. Do everyone a favor and keep some eateries, like all-you-can-eat buffets, out of the picture.

Hand a kid a carrot for an afternoon snack, and you may get a ho-hum reaction. Let them choose between a carrot, tangerine, or a handful of grapes, and you'll probably get a much livelier response. We all like choice, so whether at home or away, you can win kids over to healthier eating and give your children's diet a boost by letting them pick what to eat. Just make sure their options are healthy ones.

  • At the restaurant. Next time you're at your favorite restaurant, give the kids a choice between two or three healthy options. Would they like a grilled chicken sandwich or a plain burger? A side salad, baked potato, or corn on the cob? Fruit sorbet or frozen yogurt? Let them choose.
  • At home. Make healthier eating fun by starting with a kid-friendly base food: Try making a cheese pizza, a rice-and-bean burrito, or whole wheat pasta, then let the kids choose toppings or fillings such as red pepper strips, lettuce, tomato, salsa, low-fat cheese, or sour cream.

Your kids will be more interested in healthy meals if they help plan and prepare them. So get your kids brainstorming about tasty, fast, healthy breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks, then let them help you:

  • Make grocery lists
  • Go grocery shopping with you
  • Prepare the food. (Little ones can mix foods, wash produce, or open packages.)
  • Create simple desserts (fruit parfait, frozen fruit juice, or yogurt ice pops)

Don't forget to plan treats at home and when you're eating out. To keep kids from feeling deprived, you don't want to ban food favorites like chips, ice cream, and candies -- just make sure they're special now-and-then treats.

Your kids notice how you eat, so be a role model to them for healthy eating behaviors. A few simple ways to be a healthy eating habits role model include:

  • If you want the kids to eat their fruits and veggies, be sure they see you eat yours, too.
  • Go easy on between-meal snacks, and when you do snack, make healthy choices like produce, nuts, or whole grains.
  • Avoid portion distortion; if you say no to super-sizing and usually skip seconds, your kids will notice.
  • Share a healthy dessert at home and when you're eating out.
  • Be positive about your body and attitudes toward food.

Want to make being a role model easier on you and help your kids eat healthy at the same time? Only stock the kitchen and pantry with healthy treats like dried fruits and nuts, low-fat yogurt and cheeses, and plenty of produce. Always have a bowl of fruit on the countertop, where it's easy to grab snacks on the go. Also, keep goodies like whole-grain crackers on hand.

It may sound obvious, but kids need to be taught about eating right. It's not necessarily obvious why an apple is a better snack than a candy bar, so talk to kids about nutrition. Discuss subjects like why some foods are part of everyday healthy eating, and why other foods are a special treat.

Teach kids where their food comes from with a visit to a local farm or farmer's market. Show them how to read and follow a recipe. Help your kids plant and tend a garden, then teach them to prepare the food they've grown. Show your children how to read nutrition labels, how to compare prepackaged foods in the supermarket, and how to shop.

It's not that hard to improve your children's diet and win kids over to healthier foods. And it comes with a great bonus: Once they're eating right, it's likely that you are, too!