Healthy eating habits for kids
The healthy eating habits we teach our kids now will set them up for success now and throughout their lives.
Make time for breakfast
The old adage “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” holds true today as it always has.
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, an August 2017 study in the British Journal of Nutrition found.
Eating a healthy breakfast also gives kids 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 skipped the meal.
Some kids don’t like to eat breakfast in the morning, while others simply don’t have the time. If your kid falls into this camp, be sure to read my blog post 7 Ways To Get Your Kids To Eat a Healthy Breakfast.
Serve new foods over and over again
Although parents have the best intentions, we can be one of the biggest obstacles to getting our kids to eat healthy.
Introducing new foods requires that we’re consistent—just like any other desirable behavior we’re working on.
In fact, 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.
The earlier you put this into practice the better. In fact, 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. 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.
Eat meals together—it doesn’t have to be dinner!
Despite after-school activities, doctor’s appointments and errands, the good news is that most families do eat dinner—or other meals—together. According to a 2014 study, 88 percent of families say they eat meals together most days or a few days a week.
Although dinner is usually the meal most families eat together, sharing any meal is one of the best ways to teach kids healthy eating habits.
In fact, a 2011 meta-analysis published in the journal Pediatrics found that children who eat family meals together at least 3 times a week are less likely to be overweight, eat unhealthy foods, have disordered eating and are more likely to eat healthy foods. Sharing family meals together also teaches kids healthy eating habits like mindful eating and of course, manners.
Avoid food rewards
It can be tempting to offer your kids a snack or a treat to get them to behave well in a public place or to get through a doctor’s appointment without tears, for example.
But experts say we shouldn’t rely on food rewards.
According to parenting expert Amy McCready, (her book, If I Have To Tell You One More Time, is a must read for any parent):
“Quit rewarding your kids for behavior you should be able to expect.”
“…you’re doing your child no favor by doling out treats for his accomplishments or behavior. Instead, you’re setting him up for a “What’s in it for me?” attitude down the road.”
When you use food as a reward or as punishment, you’re also teaching your kids that food has power. As adults, they may treat themselves to dinner or a piece of cake after a long, stressful day.
Instead of using food as a reward, give your kid a hug, a high five or a sticker.
Cook with your kids
Teaching kids how to cook and prepare healthy meals is one of the most powerful habits you can teach your kids. According to a 2014 review in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, cooking programs for kids may positively affect their food preferences, attitudes and behaviors.
When you cook with your kids, don’t do it when you’re rushing to get dinner on the table. Leave plenty of time because they’ll inevitably ask questions and spill something.
Depending on your kids’ ages, younger kids can stir, mix and pour while older kids can measure, use appliances and chop ingredients.
If you’re not the greatest home chef or could simply use some pointers, I recommend you take my friend Katie Kimball’s Kids Cook Real Food online video eCourse.
Pay attention to portions
In addition to feeding kids healthy food, it’s also important to pay attention to portions.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), portion sizes have doubled, even tripled, over the past 20 years. Suffice to say, it’s one of the reasons we’re dealing with a childhood obesity epidemic.
This is something I struggle with in my home, especially because my kids usually ask for seconds.
Although they’re still young, I try to teach them portion control by using measuring cups for example, and by talking to them about what it feels like to be hungry, satisfied and full.
Don’t bribe kids with dessert
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of telling your kids they have to eat their vegetables if they want dessert but experts say this is a habit we should leave behind.
Dina Rose, PhD, author of It’s Not About The Broccoli calls this the “dessert deal.” She says this route teaches kids that vegetables are less desirable than dessert or should only be eaten to get dessert. She suggests re-thinking dessert and offering yogurt, baked fruit or a smoothie instead, for example.
Try to avoid eating on the run
One night, my daughter had back-to-back after-school activities and I let her eat dinner in the car. It was a sandwich and broccoli but I felt so awful about it that I vowed never to do it again.
Suffice to say, many kids eat snacks in the car or are forced to eat on the run because of busy afternoons or mornings. In fact, according to a survey by Barbara’s, 50 percent of kids who eat on the go or in the car skip breakfast at least once a week.
Meals are meant to be enjoyed and shared as a family. Eating in the car or on the run can cause kids to overeat and it teaches them that eating isn’t important—but just another activity to squeeze in that day.