Healthy Eating for Kids

AngelaRD, LDN, CBS

Good nutrition in young children has a profound influence on their overall health and wellbeing. This includes decreasing the risks of disease now and later in life, maintaining a healthy weight, stabilizing their moods, and even sharpening their minds. A healthy diet also has a positive influence on a child’s mental and emotional well-being.

The benefits don’t stop there – did you know that healthy eating habits are more likely to stick with you if you learn them as a child? Creating an environment where nutrient rich foods are a priority can help to shape your child’s lifelong eating habits and preferences. Here are some ways to optimize your growing child’s nutrition:

Offer a variety of foods: Offer a variety of whole foods across all food groups. Choices like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, dairy, and healthy fats such as avocado and nut butters offer the most bang for your buck in terms of nutritional quality. Plus, when you vary the foods offered, your little one is getting a better balance of the nutrients he needs to grow and develop.

Keep it stress free: As much as we want our kids to eat all of their veggies, don’t bribe or force them. Children shouldn’t have to “clean their plates.” Let your child listen to their body and decide when they’ve had enough. 

Establish routines: Young children thrive on routine. Offer meals and snacks at about the same time each day. 

Limit processed foods: Our lives are busier than ever and sometimes a home cooked meal just might not be in the cards. Do your best to limit the amount of exposure your child has to convenience type foods (think packaged meals, sugary cereals, and snack foods.) These are havens for added salts and sugars, while also being low in nutritional quality.

Limit fruit juice: Limit your child’s intake of fruit juice to ½ cup or less per day. Offer water liberally.

Eat together: YOU are the best role model for your child. Eating together as a family encourages your child to be a more adventurous eater, and sets the tone for appropriate mealtime behavior. Keep the focus on the meal; eat at the table, turn off the TV and limit other distractions.

Remember your role: Your role as the parent is to decide WHAT to offer to your child to eat. It is their job to decide HOW MUCH or IF they will eat at all. Mealtimes can lead to power struggles in young children. Hold your ground with what you are offering. You may have to endure a tantrum or two, but this will help your child learn what is expected of him at mealtimes.

Stay active: Keeping your little one active is part of a healthy lifestyle. A good daily dose of physical activity also encourages your child to come to the table ready to eat.

Remember, your child’s appetite changes just as ours does! Some days they may eat more than others and that is OK – your child is the best judge of when they’ve had enough. Offering a variety of options across all the food groups is the best way to encourage an overall balanced diet.

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