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If you’re a parent, going to Dr. Google and searching for answers to health-related questions is a given. Whether it’s about cold and flu symptoms, an odd skin rash, or kids’ healthy eating advice, we all go online first.
In fact, an April 2015 study in the Interactive Journal of Medical Research found 80 percent of parents who searched online for information about their child’s health started with a search engine, while only 20 percent went to a university or hospital-based website.
Although it’s easier than ever to get the answers you need quickly, what you’ll find isn’t always credible.
When it comes to kids’ nutrition, it’s much of the same with bloggers promoting sneaky tactics to get kids to eat vegetables or kids’ Keto recipes. And more recently, parents posting videos of scare tactics to get their kids to eat.
In our fast-paced, high-stress, mobile-driven world, searching online for health information isn’t going to stop.
My advice however, is to use sites that have articles reviewed by doctors or medical professionals like Cleveland Clinic’s Health Essentials or EverydayHealth.com and be sure to check in with your child’s doctor too.
Through these channels, you’ll find information about health and kids’ healthy eating tips that are backed by research. Here are 10 tips to consider.
1. Eat more plant-based foods
Whether your family is made up of vegetarians, vegans, pegans or full-fledged meat eaters, getting more plant-based foods in your kid’s diet is one of the best things you can do for their health.
Plant-based foods are packed with the nutrition kids need for their growth and development. Most plant-based foods also have filling fiber to satisfy their hunger and prevent constipation.
Recent studies show plant-based diets are linked with a lower risk of type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and obesity.
A January 2015 study in the Journal Of Pediatrics found children who followed a plant-based, vegan diet or the American Heart Association diet lost weight, lowered their blood pressure and improved their cholesterol in just four weeks.
2. Serve new foods repeatedly—up to 15 times!
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it can take between 8 and 15 times of introducing a new food for a child to accept it.
A December 2007 study in the journal Food Quality and Preference found that when mothers introduced a vegetable their infants initially disliked, by the 8th day of serving it, their intake of it increased rapidly.
And by the 8th exposure their intake was similar to that of a vegetable they liked. Nine months later, 63 percent of the infants were still eating the originally disliked vegetable.
3. Offer more fruits and vegetables
According to a survey published in 2014 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6 in 10 children don’t eat enough fruit and 9 in 10 don’t eat enough vegetables.
So no surprise here that one of the best kids’ healthy eating tips that are evidence based is to eat more.
Yet studies show eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure, balance blood sugar, prevent weight gain and childhood obesity, reduce the risk for eye and digestive problems, heart disease and stroke, and prevent certain types of cancer.
Of course, when kids eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables it lays the foundation for healthy eating throughout their lifetimes.
4. Dish out fish and seafood every week
Fish can be a hard sell for kids but the nutrients they contain are those kids need for healthy growth and development, according to the AAP.
Fish and seafood are packed with protein, low in saturated fat, rich in micronutrients, and an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which support kids’ brain health and memory.
Many types of fish also contain high levels of calcium and vitamin D and some types of shellfish are high in iron, selenium and iodine.
Studies suggest that consuming seafood may improve neurodevelopment in babies and decrease cardiovascular disease risk.
The FDA and EPA recommend kids eat fish 1 to 2 times a week starting at age 2. Despite its benefits, kids aren’t eating enough fish however, mainly due to concerns over mercury.
Yet salmon, sardines, shrimp and tuna (canned light) are all safe choices.
5. Cut down on sugar, juice and sweet drinks
Diets high in sugar are proven to lead to weight gain and obesity, type-2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and heart disease—all conditions that can follow kids throughout their lives.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we limit sugar to no more than 10 percent of our total calories for the day.
For kids, that works out to be about 30 to 35 grams of added sugar for little ones who get between 1,200 and 1,400 calories a day, according to Jessica Cording, a registered dietitian-nutritionist in New York City.
The good news is that even cutting out small amounts of sugar can make a dramatic difference in your child’s health.
According to a February 2016 study in the journal Obesity, obese children who reduced the amount of sugar in their diets but didn’t change the amount of calories they consumed had improvements in their blood pressure, triglycerides, and LDL “bad” cholesterol after just 10 days. Researchers also saw significant improvements in their blood glucose and insulin levels.
Juice and sugary drinks are also high in empty calories, sugar, and carbohydrates, and drinking them can lead to weight gain, cavities and diarrhea.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says if you’re going to give kids juice, limit it to between 4 and 8 ounces a day depending on their age while infants under 1 should avoid it altogether.
6. Don’t be afraid of healthy fats
The long-standing myth that eating fat causes high cholesterol, heart disease and weight gain has been debunked and we now know that healthy fats are essential to our health and our kids’.
Healthy fats are a vital source of energy and help satisfy their hunger but the AAP recommends they make up no more than 30 percent of kids’ total calories.
Healthy fats are essential for healthy cell membranes, they support kids’ brains and the growth and development of their nervous systems, and help their bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
They’re also necessary to make hormones and immune cells and they help regulate inflammation and metabolism.
While experts agree it’s the trans fats and some saturated fats that should be avoided, foods with healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats from whole foods are beneficial.
7. Avoid processed foods
Most processed foods are loaded with sodium, sugar, saturated fat and artificial ingredients you can’t identify or pronounce. They also lack fiber and the vitamins and minerals kids need in their diets.
Research shows processed foods, but more specifically the sodium, sugar, saturated fat, trans fat, and food additives they contain, are linked to weight gain and childhood obesity, high blood pressure, and mental health and behavioral problems.
But your child’s health now isn’t all you should be thinking about because eating foods with added sugars and sodium early on can affect their taste preferences, the foods they eat and their health later on in life.
Experts say the more processed foods you eat—and the longer you eat them—the more likely inflammation, leaky gut syndrome and a host of health conditions will crop up in the future.
In fact, a May 2019 study in the journal Cell Metabolism found adults who consumed ultra-processed foods for 2 weeks consumed 500 extra calories than those who consumed unprocessed foods.
Two other recent studies show that consuming ultra-processed foods are linked to a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and death.
8. Get kids to drink more water
According to an April 2019 survey in JAMA Pediatrics, 20 percent of kids don’t drink water at all and instead drink soda and sugary drinks—a sneaky source of calories and sugar.
When your kids are mildly dehydrated it can make them feel tired, lack focus and make them struggle with easy tasks.
9. Make time for breakfast
According to an August 2017 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, only about one-third of kids eat breakfast every day, 17 percent never eat breakfast and the rest only eat breakfast a fews days a week.
Yet kids who eat breakfast everyday have a higher daily consumption of key nutrients such as folate, calcium, iron and iodine than those who skip breakfast, the same study found.
Eating a healthy breakfast gives kid the energy and focus they need to get through the day, and they may even do better in school.
In fact, a June 2016 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition, which included 5,000 kids, found those who ate breakfast and those who ate a better quality breakfast, were twice as likely to do better in school than those who didn’t.
Eating breakfast is also associated with a lower risk for obesity and serious health conditions.
According to a March 2016 study in the journal Pediatric Obesity, kids who ate breakfast at school, even if they already had breakfast at home, were less likely to be overweight or obese than those who didn’t eat breakfast.
And a September 2014 study in the journal PLOS Medicine found 9 and 10-year-old children who reported regularly skipping breakfast had 26 percent higher levels of insulin in their blood after a fasting period and 26 percent higher levels of insulin resistance, a risk factor for type-2 diabetes, than children who ate breakfast every day.
10. Cut down on sodium
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 90 percent of kids get too much sodium in their diets each day and more than 40 percent of it comes from only 10 foods.
Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which about 3.5 percent of kids already have, according to the AAP.
High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease and vision loss, among other health conditions.
So even if your kids don’t have high blood pressure now, if they continue to eat too much sodium, there’s a good chance they will in the future.