Whether you have a toddler or a teen, here are five of the best strategies to improve nutrition and encourage smart eating habits:
But it's not easy when everyone is juggling busy schedules and convenience food, such as fast food, is so readily available.
Here are some ways to incorporate all five strategies into your routine.
Family meals are a comforting ritual for both parents and kids. Children like the predictability of family meals and parents get a chance to catch up with their kids. Kids who take part in regular family meals are also:
In addition, family meals offer the chance to introduce kids to new foods and to act as a role model for healthy eating.
Teens may turn up their noses at the prospect of a family meal — not surprising because they're busy and want to be more independent. Yet studies find that teens still want their parents' advice and counsel, so use mealtime as a chance to reconnect.
Also, consider trying these strategies:
What counts as a family meal? Any time you and your family eat together — whether it's takeout food or a home-cooked meal with all the trimmings. Strive for nutritious food and a time when everyone can be there. This may mean eating dinner a little later to accommodate a child who's at sports practice. It can also mean setting aside time on the weekends, such as Sunday brunch, when it may be more convenient to gather as a group.
Kids, especially younger ones, will eat mostly what's available at home. That's why it's important to control the supply lines — the foods that you serve for meals and have on hand for snacks.
Follow these basic guidelines:
The best way for you to encourage healthy eating is to eat well yourself. Kids will follow the lead of the adults they see every day. By eating fruits and vegetables and not overindulging in the less nutritious stuff, you'll be sending the right message.
Another way to be a good role model is to serve appropriate portions and not overeat. Talk about your feelings of fullness, especially with younger children. You might say, "This is delicious, but I'm full, so I'm going to stop eating." Similarly, parents who are always dieting or complaining about their bodies may foster these same negative feelings in their kids. Try to keep a positive approach about food.
It's easy for food to become a source of conflict. Well-intentioned parents might find themselves bargaining or bribing kids so they eat the healthy food in front of them. A better strategy is to give kids some control, but to also limit the kind of foods available at home.
Kids should decide if they're hungry, what they will eat from the foods served, and when they're full. Parents control which foods are available to the child, both at mealtime and between meals. Here are some guidelines to follow:
Most kids will enjoy deciding what to make for dinner. Talk to them about making choices and planning a balanced meal. Some might even want to help shop for ingredients and prepare the meal. At the store, teach kids to check out food labels to begin understanding what to look for.
In the kitchen, select age-appropriate tasks so kids can play a part without getting injured or feeling overwhelmed. And at the end of the meal, don't forget to praise the chef.
School lunches can be another learning lesson for kids. More important, if you can get them thinking about what they eat for lunch, you might be able to help them make positive changes. Brainstorm about what kinds of foods they'd like for lunch or go to the grocery store to shop together for healthy, packable foods.
There's another important reason why kids should be involved: It can help prepare them to make good decisions on their own about the foods they want to eat. That's not to say they'll suddenly want a salad instead of french fries, but the mealtime habits you help create now can lead to a lifetime of healthier choices.
Check out some healthy recipes for kids of all ages.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: February 2012
|U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.|
|National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics Offering nutrition information, resources, and access to registered dietitians.|
|Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children - better known as the WIC Program - serves to safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, & children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating, and referrals to health care.|
|ChooseMyPlate.gov ChooseMyPlate.gov provides practical information on how to follow the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It includes resources and tools to help families lead healthier lives.|
|U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) The USDA works to enhance the quality of life for people by supporting the production of agriculture.|
|Healthy Food Shopping What you put in the grocery cart can affect your child's health and attitude toward nutritious food.|
|Snacks If the right foods are offered at the right times, snacks can play an important role in managing kids' hunger and boosting nutrition.|
|Smart Supermarket Shopping You don't need to be a scientist to figure out how to make safe, healthy food choices. Before grabbing a shopping cart and heading for the aisles, read this article to make grocery shopping a snap.|
|Food Labels Look at any packaged food and you'll see the food label. This nutrition facts label gives the lowdown on everything from calories to cholesterol. Read more about food labels.|
|Go, Slow, and Whoa! A Quick Guide to Healthy Eating Looking for an easy way to eat healthier? This article provides tips on choosing the right foods - and an easy-to-follow chart to guide you.|
|Your Secrets to Healthy Snacking More than 1,000 teens took our survey on healthy snacking. Here are their thoughts (and advice) on choosing healthy snacks.|
|Kids and Food: 10 Tips for Parents Here are 10 simple tips to help you raise kids who develop healthy eating habits!|
|Go, Slow, and Whoa! A Kid's Guide to Eating Right Want to eat healthier? It's easy when you learn the difference between Go, Slow, and Whoa foods!|
|Award-Winning Cafeteria Recipes Yes, you can eat award-winning food in your school cafeteria. All 10 of these recipes won a contest held by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Let's Move, the national effort to help kids get healthier.|
|What Should Preschoolers Drink? The best drinks for preschoolers - and indeed for kids of all ages - are milk and water.|
|Healthy Drinks for Kids What kids drink can drastically affect the amount of calories consumed, as well as the amount of calcium needed to build strong bones.|
|Nutrition Guide for Toddlers While growth slows somewhat during the toddler years, it's a new era where kids will eat and drink more independently.|
|Learning About Calories You've probably heard about calories. Are they good or bad for you? Find out in this article for kids.|
|5 Ways to Get Your 5 a Day You may know that you should eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Here are some tips on making that happen.|
|Garden-Fresh Lunches Let's step into the garden for some ideas on what you can pack for lunch. PB&J is great, but not every day!|
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