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 7 Easy Ways To Teach Your Kids Healthy Food Habits Today

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Instilling healthy food habits in children at a young age is important. However, if you never grew up with a healthy relationship with food, or don’t quite have such habits yourself, then this can be difficult. Since most eating orders start to develop in children ages 12 to 18 years old or younger, you’ll want to teach your kids healthy food habits at a young age.

Additionally, the risk of such eating disorders can decrease if a child is taught at a young age how to have a healthy relationship with food and their body. In this article, we’ll teach you the easiest ways to teach your kids healthy food habits.

What Are The Basic Nutritional Needs of Children?

Due to stages of growth and development, the nutritional needs will be different for children every few years in the first 18 years of life. Reference the table below to learn about the basic dietary needs of different age groups of children.

  2-4 years boys 2-4 years girls 5-8 years boys 5-8 years girls 9-13 years boys


9-13 years girls 14-18 years boys 14-18 years girls
Calories 1000-1600 1000-1400 1200-2000 1200-1800 1600-2600 1400-2200 2000-3200 1800-2400
Protein 2-5 ounces 2-4 ounces 3-5.5 ounces 3-5 ounces 5-6.5 ounces 4-6 ounces 5.5-7 ounces 5-6.5 ounces
Fruits 1-1.5 cups 1-1.5 cups 1-2 cups 1-1.5 cups 1.5-2 cups 1.5-2 cups 2-2.5 cups 1.5-2 cups
Vegetables 1-2 cups 1-1.5 cups 1.5-2.5 cups 1.5-2.5 cups 2-3.5 cups 1.5-3 cups 2.5-4 cups 2.5-3 cups
Grains 3-5 ounces 3-5 ounces 4-6 ounces 4-6 ounces 5-9 ounces 5-7 ounces 6-10 ounces 6-8 ounces
Dairy 2-2.5 cups 2-2.5 cups 2.5 cups 2.5 cups 3 cups 3 cups 3 cups 3 cups
Other Vital Nutrients Water, essential fatty acids Water, essential fatty acids Water, essential fatty acids Water, essential fatty acids Calcium and phosphorus for bone growth Iron for girls with menses, calcium, and phosphorus for bone growth Calcium and phosphorus for bone growth Iron for girls with menses; calcium and phosphorus for bone growth

*Calorie levels will depend on a child’s rate of growth as well as physical activity level

*Dairy group includes fortified plant-based milk and milk products such as soy milk and soy-based yogurts and cheeses, for example, if a child is allergic or intolerant to milk or chooses a dairy-free lifestyle.

How To Teach Healthy Habits To Your Children 

Once you know the basic nutrients your child should eat most days for optimal health, it’s essential to start teaching them healthy habits. Since children like to imitate their caregivers and guardians, it’s vital to engage in whatever healthy habits you want your child to engage in.

These healthy habits you should try to focus on include: 

Include Children In The Food Prepping Process

Getting involved in growing produce and helping with food preparation can encourage healthy eating habits. Planting seeds in a backyard or community garden can teach children where food comes from and make them more willing to try it. Allowing kids to measure and mix ingredients, or even peel and slice fruits and vegetables under supervision, can also increase their interest in the food and make them more likely to taste it.

Make Eating Foods Like Fruits And Vegetables A Frequent Occurrence

Make eating healthy a regular thing, and it will quickly become a habit. Cooking at home most days of the week and having regular family meals can make healthy eating habits seem “normal” instead of a special event.

Provide Healthy Foods With Interesting Flavors, Shapes, And Names

To encourage younger children to try new healthy foods, it can be helpful to make the experience fun. Give the foods fun names like “broccoli trees” or “apple boats with peanut butter” to make them sound more appealing. Using cookie cutters to make shapes out of fruit or sandwiches or adding flavors like cinnamon or brown sugar to oatmeal or fruit can also make healthy foods less boring and more enticing for kids.

Monitor Your Child’s Eating Habits

Monitoring your child’s eating habits is vital to ensure they meet their daily nutrient needs and avoid eating disorders. By being involved, you can prevent them from hiding or throwing away food and may require professional assistance for treatment.

Never Label Foods As “Good” Or “Bad”

To promote a healthy relationship with food, it’s important to avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” as this can create unhealthy behaviors in children. Any food can fit into a healthy lifestyle, so focus on making healthy options readily available and including them in your daily meals.

Allowing yourself and your child to enjoy a sweet snack or chips now and then is okay. Making snacking seem like a negative thing can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.

Make Healthy Snacks Accessible And Available

Place healthy snacks on the refrigerator’s lower shelves, such as cheese sticks, sliced and diced fruit, and yogurt cups, so your children can easily reach them. You can also create a healthy snack basket on the lower pantry shelves with whole grain crackers, popcorn, and dried fruit to give your children the independence to make healthy snack choices when hungry between meals. This way, you’re not only making healthy options more accessible but also empowering your kids to make their own choices.

Don’t Use Food As A Reward Or Use Not Finishing A Food Plate As A Punishment

Just as labeling food can lead to disordered eating behaviors, so can using food as a reward or punishing a child for not finishing their plate of food at mealtime. Such rewards and punishments can place an emotional attachment to food, leading to emotional eating and binge eating behaviors later in life.

Instead, if a child does well at school, allow them to choose a favorite activity to engage in, such as going to their favorite park or going to the library. And when it comes to mealtime, start with small portions, and add more food to their plate as they ask for it, so no food goes to waste, and the child learns to recognize their hunger and fullness cues. 

Benefits Of Healthy Eating Habits In Children

Besides reducing the risk of nutrient deficiencies and chronic diseases later in life, there are many benefits of healthy eating habits for children, such as:

  • Supporting bone health for growth
  • Reducing dental cavities
  • Helping to develop a healthy relationship with food

Parents can also promote a healthy lifestyle to their children by:

  • Not smoking
  • Quitting or reducing alcohol intake
  • Ensuring a regular sleep schedule
  • Working on improving their own relationship with food and their body
  • Making sure to promote body positivity
  • Engaging in regular family physical activity
  • Creating a healthy, balanced breakfast each morning for their child, either at the table or ready to take with them on the go.

Research also shows that it’s essential for all caregivers and parents to consistently engage in healthy eating and lifestyle habits to have the child more likely to be interested in such habits.

What Are The Barriers To Healthy Eating In Children, And How To Overcome Them?

Parents often have budgets for time and money, making it hard to promote a healthy lifestyle at home. Therefore, use the following tips to help you make the most of every minute and dollar regarding healthy eating.

  • Buy In Bulk: Buy proteins in fresh or frozen bulk or those on the manager’s special.
  • Use Frozen Vegetables: To reduce waste, you can buy in bulk and save money. Frozen vegetables are also easy and quick to prepare. And if you want to include some fresh produce during the day, purchase cheaper options like bananas, peeled and sliced carrots, or apples.
  • Have Meatless Dinners: Have one or two meatless dinners per week to use lower-cost healthy foods. For example, beans and rice or grilled cheese sandwiches on wheat bread with tomato soup are great options.
  • Choose Budget-Friendly Healthy Snack Options: If you’re looking for budget-friendly and tasty snack ideas that kids of all ages will enjoy, try pairing peanut butter with banana or apple slices, raisins, peeled and sliced carrots with salad dressing, or whole-grain crackers with cheese. All of these options are both healthy and delicious!

Wrapping It Up

Helping your child develop healthy food habits is a long-term process that requires the involvement of the entire household. It’s important to be patient with yourself and your child, as creating a stressful environment can lead to emotional eating and other disordered behaviors. If you notice signs of picky eating, restriction, or excessive preoccupation with body size, seeking the help of a registered dietitian or child psychologist who specializes in eating disorders may be beneficial.

If you don’t feel equipped to teach your child about nutrition on your own, community farming programs or online courses like Kids in Nutrition may provide additional resources. And if your child is already engaging in healthy habits but still needs additional nutrients, consider talking to your healthcare provider about starting a daily multivitamin.

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