Healthy Eating Habits

Two big challenges to raising healthy kids today are enormous portion sizes and the fact that there are so many unhealthy but tempting food choices out there. When children and teens fill up on sweets and highly processed foods, they lose their appetites for foods that have the nutrients their bodies need. As they get older they’ll be making more of those choices for themselves, so it’s never too early to start teaching kids how to make healthy, balanced selections.

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • For sweet treats, stick with fresh fruit. (Babies aren’t born wanting ice cream or cookies.) Avoid refined sugar and other sweeteners as long as possible.
    • Breastfeed for optimal nutrition. When giving a bottle or cup, choose formula mixed as instructed or unsweetened beverages such as plain milk or water.
    • parents with children 6 to 9
    • Serve foods close to their natural state: fresh or unsweetened dried fruit instead of fruit roll-ups; whole wheat bread instead of white; lean cuts of meat like turkey or chicken breast instead of processed meats such as sausage or hotdogs.
    • Set clear family rules on when it’s acceptable to eat sweets, such as desserts only on the weekends.
    • Talk with kids about how their bodies get energy and strength from the foods they eat. Point out that healthier choices make for more energy and strength.
    • parents with children 10 to 15
    • Getting enough calcium is tough for kids who drink too much juice, soda, or other beverages that don’t contain it. One way you can help is by limiting the availability of those drinks in your home. You can also keep low-fat flavored milks and calcium-fortified milk alternatives on hand and serve them at meals. Though they have added sugar, it’s not nearly as much as soda, and studies show that for many kids they boost calcium intake.
    • Teach children to read labels and choose foods with zero trans fats (linked to heart disease), andfoodsthat are low in sodium and overall fat content.
    • When bringing snacks for events, choose healthy items: fresh or dried fruit; low-fat, low-salt pretzels; raw vegetables; 100% juice boxes or water bottles.
    • parents with children 16 to 18
    • When feeding groups of teens, offer good-for-you choices such as pizza with fresh toppings, whole-wheat pita bread with cheese, fresh vegetables and dip, fresh fruit, and water or milk.
  • Teenagers, girls especially, are vulnerable to excessive dieting and eating disorders, which rob their bodies of essential nutrients. Keep your home stocked with lots of healthy protein sources (nuts, beans, lean meats, low-fat dairy), calcium (dairy, calcium-fortified products), whole grains (oatmeal, whole-wheat breads, brown rice, whole wheat pasta), and fruits and vegetables. If you are concerned about your children’s eating habits, talk with a doctor who understands eating disorders.

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