Fueling a child’s body with the right foods not only supports growth but can establish lifelong eating habits. Kids who do not have a healthy diet as they are growing up can turn into unhealthy teens and adults. Establishing a healthy eating pattern early on is critical for a lifetime of health.

This May Help

Eat Light and Often

Children need to eat more frequently than adults because their stomachs are smaller. Offer your children nutritious snacks in between meals and encourage proper portion control at meals.

Balance

To prevent excess weight gain, encourage regular physical activity and balance portion sizes with calories burned.

Eat as a Family

Studies show that families who eat together provide kids with more nutrition overall. Eating lunch together may be impossible, but aim to eat breakfast and dinner as a family as often as feasible.

Eat Your Veggies

Your kids won’t eat vegetables if they don’t see you eating them. Make sure to model the kind of behavior you want your kids to have. Make eating produce easy: have fresh fruits and veggies on hand and easily accessible so kids will reach for them, and serve a fruit and/or vegetable at every single meal.

Serve Nutrient Rich Foods

Kids need all of their vitamins and minerals to grow properly. Serve foods high in nutritional quality to make sure they are getting everything they need. Focus on making sure your kids are eating foods rich in:

  • iron
  • calcium
  • protein
  • vitamin C
  • fiber

Start giving kids whole grain varieties of grains early on, so that they learn to enjoy them. Incorporate the following into their diet:

  • brown rice
  • whole wheat bread
  • whole wheat pasta
  • barley
  • quinoa

Variety

To prevent picky eaters, offer a variety of foods early on and encourage kids to try new foods. Get kids involved in planning, shopping, and cooking of food—you may find that if they are part of the process, they’ll be more likely to eat a variety of foods.

This May Hurt

Clean Your Plate Club

Encouraging kids to always clean their plate leads to overeating at many meals. Let them decide when they’re full. Once they are old enough (about five years), you should even allow them to serve themselves. And give them seconds if they are still hungry.

Filling Up on Juice

Too much fruit juice can be detrimental to your child’s eating habits and health. Your child may “fill up” on juice and not eat other nutritious foods. Juice also is liquid calories and may contribute to too many overall calories. Finally, all the sugar in fruit juices can lead to dental concerns.

For most children, eight ounces of 100% fruit juice should be the daily limit.

Poor Nutrient Quality

Many kids eat too many foods containing high amounts of fat, sugar, and sodium. Always offer nutritious foods first and consider “junk” foods only as an occasional special treat.

Becoming a Short Order Cook

Don’t end up making a special dinner for everyone in the family; picky eaters are created when parents allow their children to dictate what they will and won’t eat

Everyone in the family should be eating the same meal. The only exception is if someone in the family has an allergy. To get children to try new foods, ask them to take at least two to three bites of each food on their plate.

Portion Control

Encourage balance, variety, and moderation in a child’s eating pattern. Teach children what it feels like to be hungry, satisfied, full, and overfull. Encourage eating to satisfaction without overfilling their stomachs.

With special attention on what, when, and how much your child is eating you can raise a healthy eater who will eat a variety of foods at the correct portions for a lifetime.