How to Create Healthy Eating Habits for Kids

Knowing what to feed your toddler/preschooler can be challenging! Not only are their likes and dislikes constantly changing but it is also hard to know what needs to be served to provide him or her with a balanced and nutritious diet. As your child grows, they will begin to develop eating habits that follow them throughout their life. Encouraging healthy choices is a great way to start them down the path of developing healthy eating habits that they will carry into adulthood.  It often takes time and patience to develop healthy eating habits, so don’t get discouraged! Below are some tips to help you along the way.

Developing healthy eating habits

  • Be a healthy role model: You are the most important influence on your child, so lead by example with establishing your own healthy eating habits.
  • Regularly scheduled meals and snacks: Serve meals and snacks every 3 to 4 hours.  Healthy snacks are important because they provide young children with the nutrients and calories they will need each day to grow.  For some healthy snack suggestions, visit our Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition Resource’s Page or Choose My Plate.
  • Establish routines around mealtimes and snacks: Sit down at the table and enjoy family meal time. This helps promote family unity and is proven to improve your child’s nutrition.
  • Provide variety and balanced meals: Offer lean protein sources, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains to maintain a healthy weight.  It is best to incorporate at least 3 to4 food groups at mealtime.
  • Divide the Responsibility: It is the parents’ role to determine WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE foods are served. It is the child’s role to decide WHICH and HOW MUCH of the healthy foods offered he/she will eat. Learn more about Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility.
  • Do not make them clean their plate: Allow your child to tell you when they are full and finished eating. They will naturally regulate the amount they eat so do not force them to finish what is on the plate.
  • Try new foods: It may take up to 10 or15 times of offering a food before it will be accepted by a child.  Introduce new foods one at a time and be sure to offer it with foods that your child already enjoys instead of many new foods all at once.
  • Involve your children in nutrition:  Encourage your toddler or preschooler to help you in the kitchen. Helping in the kitchen may make your child more curious and open to trying new or different foods. Always follow basic food safety tips and provide your child with age appropriate tasks.
  • Do not reward with food: It sends the wrong message especially as most foods offered are not typically healthy options.
  • Do not forget about physical activity: Healthy eating should be paired with healthy physical activity. Children should be active at play for at least 1 to2 hours each day, including activities such as trips to the park, organized classes, or age-appropriate sports.

To learn more about healthy eating options for you and your family, visit our Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition Resources page.

Alexis Klenke, RD, LD
Alexis Klenke is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian with the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children's Hospital. Alexis is Certified in Pediatric Weight Management through the American Dietetic Association.

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