Good nutrition and a balanced diet help kids grow up
healthy. Whether you have a toddler or a teen, here are five
of the best strategies to improve nutrition and encourage
smart eating habits:
- Have regular family
- Serve a variety of healthy foods and snacks.
- Be a role model by eating healthy yourself.
battles over food.
kids in the process.
But it's not easy to take these steps when everyone is
juggling busy schedules and convenience food, such as fast
food, is so readily available.
Here are some ways to incorporate all five strategies
into your routine.
Family meals are a comforting ritual for both parents and
kids. Children like the predictability of family meals and
parents get a chance to catch up with their kids. Kids who
take part in regular family meals are also:
- more likely to eat fruits, vegetables, and grains
- less likely to snack on unhealthy foods
- less likely to smoke, use marijuana, or drink alcohol
In addition, family meals offer the chance to introduce
your child to new foods and to act as a role model for healthy
Teens may turn up their noses at the prospect of a family
meal — not surprising because they're trying to establish
independence. Yet studies find that teens still want their
parents' advice and counsel, so use mealtime as a chance to
reconnect. Also, consider trying these strategies:
- Allow your teen to invite a friend to dinner.
- Involve your teen in meal planning and preparation.
- Keep mealtime calm and congenial — no lectures or
What counts as a family meal? Any time you and your family
eat together — whether it's takeout food or a home-cooked meal
with all the trimmings. Strive for nutritious food and a time
when everyone can be there. This may mean eating dinner a
little later to accommodate a child who's at sports practice.
It can also mean setting aside time on the weekends, such as
Sunday brunch, when it may be more convenient to gather as a
Stocking Up on Healthy Foods
Kids, especially younger ones, will eat mostly what's
available at home. That's why it's important to control the
supply lines — the foods that you serve for meals and have on
hand for snacks. Follow these basic guidelines:
- Work fruits and vegetables into the daily
routine, aiming for the goal of at least five
servings a day. Be sure you serve fruit or vegetables at
- Make it easy for your child to choose healthy
snacks by keeping fruits and vegetables on hand and
ready to eat. Other good snacks include low-fat yogurt,
peanut butter and celery, or whole-grain crackers and
- Serve lean meats and other good sources of
protein, such as fish, eggs, beans, and nuts.
- Choose whole-grain breads and cereals
so kids get more fiber.
- Limit fat intake by avoiding deep-fried
foods and choosing healthier cooking methods, such as
broiling, grilling, roasting, and steaming. Choose low-fat
or nonfat dairy products.
- Limit fast food and other low-nutrient
snacks, such as chips and candy. But don't
completely ban favorite snacks from your home. Instead, make
them "once-in-a-while" foods, so kids don't feel
- Limit sugary drinks, such as soda and
fruit-flavored drinks. Serve water and low-fat milk instead.
How to Be a Role Model
The best way for you to encourage healthy eating is to eat
well yourself. Kids will follow the lead of the adults they
see every day. By eating fruits and vegetables and not
overindulging in the less nutritious stuff, you'll be sending
the right message.
Another way to be a good role model is to limit
portions and not overeat. Talk about your feelings of
fullness, especially with younger children. You might say,
"This is delicious, but I'm full, so I'm going to stop
eating." Similarly, parents who are always dieting or
complaining about their bodies may foster these same negative
feelings in their kids. Try to keep a positive approach about
Don't Battle Over Food
It's easy for food to become a source of conflict.
Well-intentioned parents might find themselves bargaining or
bribing kids so they eat the healthy food in front of them. A
better strategy is to give kids some control, but to also
limit the kind of foods available at home.
Kids should decide if they're hungry, what they will eat
from the foods served, and when they're full. Parents control
which foods are available to the child, both at mealtime and
between meals. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Establish a predictable schedule of meals and
snacks. It's OK to choose not to eat when both
parents and kids know when to expect the next meal or snack.
- Don't force kids to clean their plates.
Doing so teaches kids to override feelings of fullness.
- Don't bribe or reward kids with food.
Avoid using dessert as the prize for eating the meal.
- Don't use food as a way of showing
love. When you want to show love, give kids a hug,
some of your time, or praise.
Get Kids Involved
Most kids will enjoy deciding what to make for dinner. Talk
to them about making choices and planning a balanced meal.
Some might even want to help shop for ingredients and prepare
the meal. At the store, teach kids to check out food
labels to begin understanding what to look for.
In the kitchen,
select age-appropriate tasks so your child can play a part
without getting injured or feeling overwhelmed. And at the end
of the meal, don't forget to praise the chef.
lunches can be another learning lesson for kids. More
important, if you can get them thinking about what they eat
for lunch, you might be able to help them make positive
changes. Brainstorm about what kinds of foods they'd like for
lunch or go to the grocery store to shop together for healthy,
There's another important reason why kids should be
involved: It can help prepare them to make good decisions on
their own about the foods they want to eat. That's not to say
that your child will suddenly want a salad instead of french
fries, but the mealtime habits you help create now
can lead to a lifetime of healthier
Check out some healthy recipes
for kids of all ages.
Reviewed by: Mary
L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: November