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How can I get my child to eat healthier foods?

As the parent(s), you are in charge of buying healthy groceries, serving nutritious food, and teaching your children healthy eating habits. A few general ideas may be helpful in encouraging healthy habits:

Schedule it

Establish a regular time for meals and snacks each day. Children generally need breakfast, lunch, dinner and one or two snacks daily. If children skip meals or snacks, their blood sugar tends to drop and then they overeat later. Research has also shown that sit-down family meals result in healthier eating than meals eaten alone or on-the-go. Absolutely do not allow the television to be on during meals!

Simply it

If you find your family has so many activities that you and/or your child feel overwhelmed and sit-down family meals are impossible, it may be time to reduce your child’s load. You must make healthy eating a priority in your family’s life to succeed!

Buy it

Serving healthy meals at home requires advance planning. You must plan your meals for the week before going grocery shopping. That way, at the end of the day, you have a plan and the ingredients to make a healthy meal instead of turning to less healthy choices. Make sure to stock lots of fruit and vegetables, and low or non-fat dairy products. Remember, prepackaged and processed foods are usually high in fat and calories and cost more than fresh foods. For example, for the cost of a large bag of chips and cookies, you could buy 2 pounds of apples, 1 pound of bananas, 1 pound of carrots, 3 pounds of potatoes, and 1 pound of peppers!

Try it

Introduce new healthy foods to your children. Ask you children to try one bite. If they don’t like the one bite, they may stop. This makes kids less afraid to try new foods. Sometimes you may need to wait a week and then re-introduce a new food 2-3 times. If your child still does not like the food, move on to other foods. Don’t give up! Keep offering healthy foods and even picky eaters will eventually change their minds about trying new things.

Model it

Children learn what to eat by watching parents. The best way to teach healthy eating habits is for your children to see you eating healthy foods and doing regular physical activity. Make sure to be enthusiastic yourself about trying new foods, enjoying salad, whole grains, vegetables, and healthy snacks. If your children hear you saying “I love salad” and see you eat it, they are more likely to do so themselves.

Choose it

Kids like choices! Allowing them to choose which of a few healthy foods they would like (“Would you like an apple or a pear in your lunch tomorrow?”) will help them feel independent and involved.

Make it easy

Try to pre-prepare the healthy snacks and drinks that you want your child to have. Pre-washing and cutting up fruit and vegetables in snack-size portions, or filling sports-bottles with water in the fridge will make it more likely that your child will reach for those snacks instead of the “easy” junk foods and juice boxes.

Make it together

Kids of all ages are much more likely to eat what they have helped prepare. You can involve your child in the planning and shopping stage with helping to pick and plan the food. Finding ways to involve your children in food preparation will help them feel as if it is ‘their’ food and want to try and eat it. For example:

  • 3 year olds can: wash fruits and vegetables, tear lettuce, bring ingredients from one place to another, mix ingredients, shake covered containers, put things in the trash;
  • 4 year olds can also: peel oranges or boiled eggs, mash cooked food or bananas with a fork, set the table, cut parsley or scallions with kids safe scissors;
  • 5 year olds can also: measure ingredients.

Make it fun

Children are very susceptible to presentation! Making faces out of fruits, vegetables, or sliced deli meat sometimes distracts them into healthy eating. “Sundaes” of fruit and yogurt, skewers of fruit, frozen pieces of fruit, bite-sized pieces eaten with a toothpick, broccoli “forests,” interesting shapes and forms make all make healthy food more appealing.

Slow it down

It takes about 20 minutes for someone to feel full after food hits their stomach, so sit-down family meals with conversation will result in less overeating than meals eaten alone, in the car, or on-the-go. Also, start the meal by offering your child small portions of food and let him ask for more if he’s still hungry; this will slow down eating and also avoid the problem of your child eating food just because it’s in front of him rather than because he’s hungry.