NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County

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Healthy Eating Habits in Children

Healthy Eating Habits in Children

            Children develop a natural preference for what they eat most often and enjoy. The challenge is to make healthy choices appealing. No matter how good your intentions, trying to convince your eight-year-old that an apple is as sweet a treat as a cookie is not likely to a good outcome.  However, you can ensure that your children’s diet is as nutritious and wholesome as possible, even when allowing for some of their favorite treats.

            Top tips to promote healthy childhood eating    

  • Have regular family meals. Knowing dinner is served at approximately the same time every night and that the entire family will be sitting down together is comforting, enhances appetite, and provides a perfect opportunity for your children to share what's on their minds. Breakfast is another great time for a family meal, especially since kids who eat breakfast tend to do better in school.
  •  Because children have such a strong urge to imitate others, the best move you can make to start your child off on the right dietary foot is to be a role model, so that when your youngster asks to taste what you're eating, your plate is filled with healthy selections. If you're asking your child to eat vegetables and fish while you graze on potato chips and soda, your actions will override your good intentions.
  • Cook more meals at home. Eating home cooked meals is healthier for the whole family and sets a great example for kids about the importance of food. Restaurant meals tend to have more fat, sugar and salt. Save dining out for special occasions.
  • Get kids involved. Children enjoy helping adults grocery shop, selecting what goes in their lunch box, and preparing dinner. It's also a chance for you to teach them about the nutritional values of different foods, and (for older children) how to read food labels.
  • Make a variety of healthy foods available and keep your pantry free of empty calorie snacks. Keep plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grain snacks and healthful beverages (filtered water, milk, herbal tea, occasional fruit juice) around and easily accessible so kids become used to reaching for healthy snacks when they're hungry instead of empty calorie snacks like soda, chips, or cookies.
  • Plan for snacks. Continuous snacking may lead to overeating, but snacks that are planned at specific times during the day can be part of a nutritious diet, without spoiling a child's appetite at meal times. You should make snacks as nutritious as possible, without depriving your children of occasional chips or cookies, especially at parties or other social events.
  • Let them choose. Don't make mealtimes a battleground by insisting a child clean the plate, and never use food as a reward or bribe.
  •  Enjoy dinners — eat slowly. It takes 20 minutes for the stomach to send a message to the brain. We tend to eat a lot more when we are starving, because our brains don't know right away that the stomach is full. Dinners should be events — enjoy them as a family and teach kids how to avoid feeling too full.

            You may have been told not to play with your food, but making mealtime playful can mean healthier eating for you and your kids! Here are some creative ways to build more fruits and vegetables into your child's daily diet:

  • Top a bowl of whole grain cereal with a smiley face: banana slices for eyes, raisins for nose, peach or apple slice for mouth.
  • Create a food collage. You can use broccoli florets for trees, carrots and celery for flowers, cauliflower for clouds, and a yellow squash for a sun. When you're all finished, you can eat your masterpiece!
  • Make frozen fruit kabobs for kids using pineapple chunks, bananas, grapes and berries.
  • Go grocery shopping with your children. Take them to the grocery store or Farmers' Market to let them see all the different sizes and colors that fruits and vegetables offer. Let them pick out a new fruit and vegetable to try.
  • Try fruit smoothies for a quick healthy breakfast, or afternoon snack.
  • Add vegetables and fruits to baked goods – blueberry pancakes, zucchini bread, carrot muffins. It’s easy to add shredded veggies or fruit pieces to almost any baked good.
  • All soups, stews, and sauces can have extra veggies added to them. To make them blend in, you can grate them up before adding them to something such as red-sauce.
  • Keep lots of fresh fruits and veggies washed, available, and in a place where children know to look when they want a snack. Easy fruits and vegetables to grab and eat on the run include apples, pears, bananas, grapes, figs, carrot and celery sticks, zucchini slices. Add yogurt for extra protein.
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