How to Get Your Kids to Eat Healthy

School Age

When it comes to getting our children to eat healthy foods, nutrition experts say many of us try too hard.

Sometimes in our efforts to get our children to eat veggies or fruits or to limit desserts and “junk food,” we instead create power struggles that actually lead to less healthy eating. Check out these tips to not only encourage your child to eat better but also to help create a lifelong, positive relationship with food.

Encourage your child to listen to his own body

As parents, many of us feel programmed to make sure our kids are not going hungry. But while it may be tempting to force a child to clean his plate or to eat three more bites of peas, this approach teaches a child to override his body’s signal that it is full. If a child says he’s finished, he likely is. If he says he is not hungry or hasn’t eaten well, gently remind him that there won’t be any more food until next mealtime and leave it at that.

Our nutrition experts say: Letting the child decide how much to eat (or not eat) at mealtime helps him build an understanding of what hunger and fullness feel like.

Choose the healthy foods to serve

We all want our children to eat more veggies and fruit, but if we tell our child, “You need to finish your broccoli before you can leave the table,” it can cast a dark shadow over eating veggies and cause a power struggle. Instead, take the emotion out of mealtime and let him know if he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t have to eat it. It is the parent’s job to provide the meal but the child’s job to choose what and how much to eat from the meal you provide. For future meal planning, continue to offer new foods as well as those he’s not previously liked—it can take up to 15 to 20 times introducing a food before your child may decide to try it.

Our nutrition experts say: Kids are sometimes more likely to accept or try new foods when they are served alongside foods they usually like. For example, if you are making a new chicken recipe for dinner and are not sure your child will try it, serve it with one of his favorite healthy sides, like carrots or brown rice.

Avoid restricting foods

Since one of our top goals in food parenting is to build healthy attitudes toward food, it’s important not to put any food on a “forbidden” list. If we stock our homes with healthy food, our kids are more likely to make healthy food choices. Knowing that your child is getting healthy, nutritious foods at home will make it easier not to panic over the occasional treat or less-than-healthy food choice.

Our nutrition experts say: If we make foods off-limits, we could set our children up for food anxiety or a feeling of being deprived. That can lead to hiding and even bingeing on the off-limits foods when we aren’t around.

Be a positive role model

Who better to show your child how to eat healthy than you? If you want them to eat veggies, help yourself to some carrots. If you want them to drink water, skip soft drinks for yourself. After all, if he sees you drinking or eating what you don’t want him to have, that can send mixed messages and cause tension. Take advantage of your position as parent and use your bond with your child to help him and your family develop healthy habits that last a lifetime.

Our nutrition experts say: Children observe and imitate adult behavior, and that applies to everything from manners to eating habits and attitudes about food. Being a good role model can make a big difference in your child’s relationship with food.