News and Notes from The Johnson Center

Teaching Kids Healthy Eating Habits

JCCHD | Thu, February 26, 2015 | [Family and Food][Healthcare]

Children need the right fuel to grow, learn, and keep their energy levels up. With increased rates of childhood obesity, TV commercials advertising unhealthy snacks and food, and ongoing peer pressure, children might seem less inclined to make healthy choices. Although teaching healthy eating habits to your kids might seem like a daunting task, there are many things parents can do to engage their children in making smart food choices.


Monkey see, monkey do! Be a good role model.

Children are most likely to imitate their parents’ habits, and this can apply to food choices as well. Seeing you eat burgers and fries from the drive-through while they are being asked to eat fruits and vegetables can turn them off to the idea of eating healthy. Seeing you eat healthy will encourage your child to do the same. You can also teach your child about the importance of eating appropriate portions and ceasing to eat when you feel satisfied. Children should not feel as though they have to clean their plate, and having a conversation with them about portion control and fullness can lead to them making good choices for themselves when they sit down to eat. Taking a positive approach about food and eating right will encourage your children to do the same.

Get your kids involved.

Involving the children in meal planning or lunch-packing can encourage them to be more interested and invested in healthy eating. You can take them shopping with you and let them pick out their favorite fruits and vegetables or ones that they would like to try. Talk to the produce workers – they often have good suggestions, and may even let you sample new fruits and vegetables. For younger children, you can give them choices between two fruits or veggies and have them decide which one they would like to eat during a meal that week. You can help them categorize each item they pick out into each of the food groups to help them learn more about their food choices. You can also let your child plan a meal for the family to eat and encourage them to help prepare it. To make the preparation more fun, they can be “head chef” and plan out what items will be served in the meal. You can guide their decisions by encouraging them to include an item from food groups like fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein in the meal. When preparing the food, you can give them age-appropriate tasks so they can contribute. Kids can also get involved in packing their own lunches. When grocery shopping, have them pick out healthy snacks that they can they eat. Kids will feel in control of their decisions when choosing their own food options.

Make healthy snacks available.

If kids are around only healthy foods, they will certainly eat them! Keep your pantry stocked with healthy food choices. You can give your child options on healthy snacks, and they can choose which ones they would like to eat. Keeping a variety of foods is very important so children don’t get bored with the same options. This will allow them to explore new foods and flavors. Children need whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy (or another calcium source), and lean protein in order to grow and develop. Keeping a pantry and refrigerator stocked with items such as whole grain crackers, low-fat yogurt, and lean meat will ensure that your child will get the nutrients needed in order to grow and keep their energy levels up. Healthy eating is not limited to only food, however. Water is very important and encouraging your child to drink plenty of water throughout the day will help keep them from feeling fatigued and irritable. Try to avoid giving your child sugary juices and sodas, which are linked to increasing rates of childhood obesity and sap energy.

You can also have a conversation with your child about “go, slow, and whoa foods.” “Go” foods are those that are encouraged to be consumed on a regular basis, such as fruits, vegetables, skim milk (dairy or alternative), and whole grain crackers. “Slow” foods are those that can be consumed occasionally, such as peanut butter and baked potatoes. “Whoa” foods are the least healthy foods and should be consumed very rarely, if at all. Examples of “whoa” foods include french fries, fried chicken, and soda. Incorporating this system can help your children categorize their food options into healthy and unhealthy choices and encourage them to eat better.

Give your kids the freedom of choice.

Throughout this article, we have mentioned the importance of giving children choices. Children should feel in control of their decisions, and giving them options to choose from can help them feel this way. Being in control of their decisions can lead to confidence boosts in children, especially when these choices are positive. You can let your child pick between healthy snack options when packing their lunch or giving them an afternoon snack. Another thing that can allow children the freedom of choice is to incorporate family-style meals which allow them to choose what they would like to eat. The options on the table can also be healthy, of course, such as three different types of vegetables and two types of lean protein choices. However, children can make their own choice between these options. Another option is to include a base meal and several topping options. For example, for a taco, a base meal of tortillas and brown rice can be served, alongside toppings of lettuce, spinach, tomato, bell peppers, cheese, black beans, grilled chicken, and ground turkey. Children can decide which toppings they would like on their taco, but all options are healthy. This can also apply to pastas and salads.

Make food choices fun!

Not everything the child eats has to be healthy! Children can mix in small portions of their favorite treats in their meals. For example, you can include mashed chocolate chip cookies in their trail mix or add chocolate chips to a low-fat yogurt and fruit parfait. You can also make food choices fun by making their lunch or snack packaging appealing. Drawing doodles and cartoons on muffin tins or decorating their sandwich bags can make their food much more fun to eat. You can also add a note to their lunches. The note can be sweet sayings, a quote that can inspire them, a fun fact about a topic that interests them, or even a fact about the meal they are eating. The note can also compliment them on good food choices if they helped prepare the food. Making the meal more fun will encourage positive thoughts about eating well and making healthy food choices.