How to Build Healthy Eating Habits in Kids

When it comes to healthy eating and food preferences, school-age children can fall anywhere in a wide-ranging spectrum. Some kids may be the same picky eaters they were when they were preschoolers while others mature to become adventuresome gourmands who are ready, willing, and able to try new foods.

No matter what kind of eating habits your child has developed, you can help shape their preferences and attitudes toward nutritious food by guiding them toward healthy eating habits.

1

Go Food Shopping With Kids to Teach Them Healthy Eating Choices

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To show your child healthy eating choices, fill your grocery shopping cart with fresh produce and cut down on processed foods.

You can make a game out of picking different colors of fruits and vegetables (green broccoli, yellow and red peppers, orange carrots). Then, talk about the dishes you can make in the coming week, such as a stir-fry, using your rainbow of produce.

2

Let Your Kids Help You Cook

healthy eating habits - family smiling in kitchen with vegetables
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Kids of every age can help out in the kitchen. Your kindergartner may not be able to chop vegetables, but they can certainly tear up lettuce for a salad or put bread in a basket. A 9 or 10-year-old can stir sauces or measure out ingredients.

You’ll be glad you encouraged culinary habits early when your grade-schooler grows into a teen who can skillfully whip up a delicious dinner for the whole family.

3

Don't Stress About the Amount of Food They Eat

healthy eating habits - boy eating peas on table
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Your kid may polish off everything on their plate one day, then eat two peas and declare that they're done the next. This is perfectly normal behavior for a growing grade-schooler.

Don't make your child feel bad for not finishing everything on their plate. If your child typically doesn't eat a full plate at mealtime, start offering smaller portions (you can always give seconds).

4

Encourage Smart Snacking

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Even if your child is served a favorite dish for dinner, they may not eat it if they've been snacking close to mealtime and aren't hungry.

Don't let kids snack for at least an hour before dinner. If they really need to have something, make the nibble as healthy and light as possible—say, baby carrots with hummus or apple slices.

5

Avoid the Allure of Bribes

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It can certainly be tempting to say no TV, dessert, or whatever else your child wants unless they eat dinner, but this practice can cause problems with a kid's relationship to food.

Rather than making your child feel pressured into eating when they don't feel like it, give them choices that are more likely to go down easy—such as bite-sized portions of cheesy broccoli or a fruit smoothie.

6

Don't Ban Junk Food

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Letting kids have treats doesn’t mean allowing your grade-schooler to eat a candy bar a day. Limiting processed food that’s high in sugar and calories is a good idea in general, but it can backfire if you go to extremes.

Not allowing so much as a lollipop in your home can make a child more likely to scarf down "forbidden" food when they get the opportunity elsewhere (such as school or a friend's house).

A better way to handle sugary snacking is to let your child have a piece of candy or chocolate once in a while. Most of the time when they're craving something sweet, try to steer them toward healthy snacks like nuts and raisins.

7

Set a Good Example

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If you ban your child from drinking soda and then guzzle down a Diet Coke over dinner, it sends them a mixed message.

You also want to honestly examine your own attitude toward food. Do you try healthy recipes or do you eat fatty foods and then express remorse and worry about your weight?

If you're willing to find new ways to be creative and make healthy choices about food, your kids are more likely to follow in your footsteps.

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