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The habits we establish as children often carry on into adulthood. We’re not born knowing what a “normal” or “healthy” diet is, but rather we learn from our parents and families. Our role as parents is to help our kids develop healthy eating habits.
Learn how to get your kids to eat healthy and eat well throughout their lives.
Childhood obesity is on the rise. According to the CDC, in 2015 1 out of 5 children was obese. This number has tripled since the 1970s.
Along with the rise in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer rates are also increasing. Studies have found that unhealthy lifestyles including poor diet and sedentary behaviors are directly linked to this pattern.
Additionally, childhood obesity is linked to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
It is our job as parents to break this cycle and create a new generation of healthy children. Help your kids develop healthy eating habits with these simple changes.
1. Eat Meals as a Family
When mealtime becomes family time, the entire family benefits. According to HealthyChildren.org, families who eat at least 3 meals per week together were 12% less likely to be overweight.
Also, families that eat together have improved communication and social skills. Put away phones, TVs or any other distractions and sit down and eat as a family.
When you eat together as a family, you have an opportunity to talk and catch up on everybody’s day. This is a great time to discuss any hardships, stressors, or accomplishments of the day.
Additionally, eating together helps children develop a healthy relationship with food. They see their family members eating the same foods and in the same manner.
This shows your children that these foods are “normal” to eat and enjoyable.
2. Eliminate Junk Food
The best way to clean up your child’s diet is to remove the temptation. If you are offering your children vegetables and hummus for a snack, but they know their favorite junk food is in the pantry, there is a good chance they will refuse the healthy option.
Many children do not have self-control when it comes to sweets or junk food.
For young toddlers, I recommend to go a step beyond this and not even introducing your child to junk food. Obviously, you cannot avoid all unhealthy foods forever.
However, we are not born knowing what chips and cookies are. The longer your child goes without incorporating junk food into their diet, the healthier they will be.
For children who already love snack food and sweets, make it a family goal for everybody to eat healthier. Cook new healthy snacks together or find healthy and natural swaps.
Start eating clean as a family and avoid junk food for good.
3. Model Good Behavior
If you want your children to eat well, you must lead by example. If you are offering your child vegetables and hummus for a snack while you are standing and eating chips, this is not going to go over well.
Eat what you expect your child to eat.
Eating healthy is a way of life that we learn from others around us. Model good behavior and show your child that it is normal to eat healthy foods.
Also, do not stand at the pantry and snack. Instead, pour out a proper serving size and sit down and eat a snack.
Many parents often say they focus on feeding their children and end up skipping meals or just picking at food themselves. This does not show your kids healthy eating habits.
To avoid this common scenario, cook a meal or a snack that everyone will enjoy. Sit down and eat it together.
If you don’t want them walking around with food, you shouldn’t either.
4. Do Not Use Food as a Reward or Punishment
When food is used as a reward or a punishment, you create a stigma around food. Certain foods inherently become “good” and others become “bad”.
This can lead to insecurities later in life including binge eating or even anorexia. Also, this will make your child want the “good” junk foods more and dread the “bad” healthy options.
Avoid saying things such as “candy is bad for you” or “you were bad so you can’t have dessert”. These create an idea in your child’s mind that “bad” foods taste better.
Alternatively, when you make sweets or junk food a reward, it makes your child more likely to overeat. Your child will crave it more and will be more likely to overindulge when they do have it.
Instead, make dessert a normal part of your meals on occasion.
If you enjoy using a reward system for your child, try offering stickers or the option to choose an activity for the family. Take food out of the equation and find a fun activity to reward them with instead.
5. Avoid Negative Talk About Food or Weight
If your child is overweight, please do not put them down and tell them they are “fat” or “too big”. Chances are if they are school-aged, they have heard it from their peers.
Don’t target your child and say “you need to eat better”. Instead, turn it into a project that “we are all working towards”. Again, this helps create a healthy relationship with food and healthy habits.
Children need their parents as their role models and their cheerleaders. Instead of putting your child down and pointing out what they likely already know, reverse the conversation.
Applaud them when they make healthy choices. Encourage them to move more and lose weight.
Instead of saying “you don’t need to eat more”, distract them. Change the scenery and get up and participate in a fun activity together. Sometimes an increase in physical activity can be enough to help balance out your child’s weight.
Do not put your child down or bring attention to how much they are eating. This is a sure way to lead to eating disorders.
6. Offer Healthy Options
Try to eat healthier as a family and offer more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Trade in salty snacks and sweets for these lower calorie, nutrient-dense foods.
This way if your child wants more, it is ok. A second helping of vegetables is always a good thing!
If your child is hesitant at first, try the “one bite” rule. They must try one bite of a new food before they decide if they do or do not like it. A lot of children are afraid of new foods, but enjoy them once they try it.
Establish this rule to get them to branch out and try new foods. If they don’t like it the first time, try again another time. Eventually, their palate’s will adapt and they will enjoy the taste.
If you are new to eating healthy yourself, get started with this free clean eating shopping list! This includes healthy items that the whole family should be eating more of and foods to try to avoid.
7. Involve Your Kids in Cooking
Studies have shown that kids who help out in the kitchen are more likely to eat a larger variety of foods. Involve your children in selecting meals and preparing them.
Pick age-appropriate tasks for your children and let them help measure and scoop, stir, or mix.
Your children will also be more likely to carry these eating habits into adulthood if they have an idea of how to cook for themselves as well.
Also, if you are a working parent, cooking together is a way to bond and spend time with your children while also accomplishing tasks.
This is a win-win for everyone!
8. Offer As Many Foods as Possible During the First Two Years
When your baby is ready to start solids, this is your opportunity to start them off on the right foot. Try to offer a large variety of foods including various vegetables, fruits, and grains.
If you are able to, home making baby food is ideal as well. This way they will be exposed to various textures and a variety of flavors. Pre-packaged baby foods taste exactly the same each time.
When you cook it yourself however, there is always a variance in texture or flavor.
Make sure to start slow and wait at least 3 days before introducing new foods to your baby. Once you know your baby is not allergic to a food, try combining it with others.
Expand their palate before they learn to say “no” and demand only one food over and over like many toddlers and young children do. Have fun with feeding your baby and try new recipes every few days.
If you want more baby-friendly recipes, try my favorite cookbook, The Big Book of Organic Baby Foods
9. Move More
According to the CDC, children should participate in 60 minutes of active time most days of the week. Most children and adults are not meeting these guidelines, so it is important to work together as a family to move more.
Studies have shown that increased physical activity benefits mental health, physical health, and sleep. More activity helps improve self-esteem, decrease blood pressure, improve blood sugar, and strengthen your bones.
When everyone gets home from school or work, spend a dedicated 30 minutes outside playing together. Go on a family bike ride, play tag, or a game of catch.
You can use this time to bond and talk while exercising as a family. Also, try to reduce the amount of sedentary time spent watching TV or playing on the computer. Children under 2 should not have any screen time.
10. Get Enough Sleep
Make sure your child is getting the recommended amount of sleep each night. Studies have shown that people who are sleep deprived are more likely to crave junk food and overeat.
Sugary foods and processed foods turn into sugar rapidly in our bloodstream. This gives us a temporary boost in
When you are well-rested, you are less likely to crave these processed foods because your body does not need the energy boost.
Sleep is so important in a growing child, so make it a priority. Young children and teens should be getting 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Establish a bedtime routine and stick with it each night.
11. Don’t Stress
If you are modeling healthy behavior, exercising and eating well, don’t stress if your child is overweight. Every body-type and metabolism are completely different. Often times once a child hits puberty and goes through a growth spurt, the weight will distribute more evenly.
If your child is considered obese or still gaining weight, certainly ask for help. Your pediatrician will likely have information for a dietician or weight loss specialist who can provide some guidance.
If you are ready to commit to your health, there is no better time to start than today! For some inspiration on clean eating, check out this post on clean eating for beginners.
Also, if you want to start meal planning, this article will help you learn how to get started today.
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