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How to Raise Kids with Healthy Eating Habits

Updated on December 21, 2009

This is one of those horrible areas where we simply must lead by example! Yes, if you want to raise kids to have healthy eating habits, you've got to eat healthy yourself. And no, you don't have to cut cheese into fun shapes or turn broccoli into dinosaur trees. Bravo to you if you can make homemade pizza from whole-wheat crust with a smiley face of veggies, but most of us are too busy for that sort of over-achieving nutrition. What you really need to do is adopt a few good habits.

Make It a Meal

Sorry folks, PopTarts in the back seat of a mini-van rolling between soccer practice and ballet is not a meal. If you must eat on the run, pack a sandwich.

The healthiest thing you can do for yourself and your kids is to cook. Better yet, let them cook. Packaged fruit and veggies are a great shortcut. The box of Hamburger Helper is not. Processed foods are full of salt and sugar. If you get your kids hooked on these foods, it will be harder for them to appreciate the more subtle flavors of natural foods.

Regardless of what you serve, eat with your child whenever you can - preferably at a table. Eat the same things and use the opportunity to explain your choices. Make meal times pleasant so that your kids will listen and want to spend the time with you.

Serving a variety of foods teaches your child to try different things. And don't give up. If she doesn't like something once, keep serving it. She may never like it, but there's value in learning to tolerate things we don't like.

Be Prepared

Especially for snacks, take advantage of packaged fruits and vegetables. In the produce section you can find cut and cleaned apples, carrots, and other snacks. Keep these on hand along with packaged fruit cups and applesauce. Let kids serve themselves to make it easy on you and them. Keep a bowl of fresh fruit within reach. If you must buy Cheetos, stick to small packages.

Keep portions realistic. Most Americans eat too much. We've become desensitized to what a healthy portion is and would be surprised to find how little food the body really needs.

Check out correct portion sizes at:


Be the Boss

Avoid power struggles with consistency. Pick a rule and stick with it. No kid ever died from going to bed in the middle of a dinner he didn't like. Sending your crying child to bed is painful, but you'll only have to do it once or twice. If he knows you mean it, mushrooms start to taste a whole lot better. Some parents offer kids a peanut butter sandwich or yogurt as an alternate meal, but then you end up with a kid who only eats sandwiches or yogurt.

Your dinner table is not a restaurant. Whether you cook or not, you've worked hard to put a meal on the table and your child is learning more than just healthy eating habits when you expect him to eat what you offer.

I'm all for threats and bribery. All the parenting books advise against coercion, but why was dessert created if not for getting your toddler to eat broccoli? Ten more bites is a powerful tool in the battle to get your kids to eat. Face it, some of us must be forced to eat a mushroom. If the promise of a sweet doesn't do it, a big flat spatula might do the trick. No, I wouldn't beat my children, but they don't need to know that.

Healthy eating habits are just that - habits. If you want your kids to make healthy choices on autopilot, start young and model the behavior you want them to copy. Soon your children will be on your case for grabbing that extra Krispy Kreme!


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