Kids' Healthy Eating Not Just About Food

Healthy eating habits are especially important during childhood. Children learning and growing at a rapid rate use up lots of energy, and their bodies need healthy foods to provide that energy.

Most parents are concerned about how they can get their children to eat nutritious foods. Mealtime can become stressful for the whole family when children won't eat what parents think they should.

Children learn food preferences from parents, siblings, family members, and friends. Set a good example by the foods that you, as parents, eat. Show your children how to try new foods by expanding your own choices, and offer a variety of foods.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases offers the following suggestions to help your child develop and maintain good eating habits and to prevent chaotic mealtimes in your home:

  • Offer your child a wide variety of foods. Include grains, different vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy products, and lean meat or beans.

  • Snacks should be healthy: fresh fruit, dried fruit, vegetable sticks (carrots, celery, peppers), low-fat yogurt, air-popped popcorn.

  • Let your child decide whether and how much to eat of new foods. Keep serving new foods even if your child doesn't eat them at first.

  • Limit the amount of sugar in your child's diet. Choose cereals with low or no added sugar. Serve water or low-fat milk instead of sugar-sweetened sodas and fruit-flavored drinks. Diet sodas may be offered in limited amounts, but they should not replace milk intake. Daily milk recommendations are 2 cups per day for 2 to 3 year old, 2.5 cups per day for 4 to 8 year olds, 3 cups per day for age 9 and older.

  • Choose and prepare foods with less salt. Keep the saltshaker off the table. Have fruits and vegetables on hand for snacks instead of salty snack foods.

  • Involve your child in planning and preparing meals. Children may be more willing to eat the dishes they help prepare.

  • Have family meals together and serve everyone the same thing.

  • Make the initial servings small. If the child wants seconds, let him or her ask.

  • Try to make mealtimes pleasant and calm so the family can enjoy one another. Children eat best in a relaxed atmosphere. Choose some other time to solve family problems.

  • Don't be too strict. In small amounts, sweets or occasional food from fast-food restaurants can fit into a healthy diet.

  • Never use food as a reward or a punishment.