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Promote Healthy Eating: What Parents Can Do

Kids eat what is available and what they see adults eating. Surrounding them with healthy options in the home and setting a great example yourself are the best ways to encourage a lifetime of healthy eating.

The following are some suggestions to improve your family’s nutrition habits:

Build healthy plates:

  • Learn about your child’s nutrition requirements. Children need different amounts of foods at different ages, genders, and activity levels.
  • Enjoy family meals together whenever possible—it’s one of the best opportunities to support your child’s health, learning and social and emotional development.
  • Show your children what their plate should look like by showing them how you fill yours with healthy foods.
  • Stick to your guns! When you serve a healthy meal and your child chooses not to eat it, don’t make a scene or replace it with another dinner. Save it in case your child gets hungry later.

Involve your kids in food choices:

  • Include your children when planning the week’s meals.
  • Shop for groceries together. Make a list before you go and make it clear that you will only buy foods on the list to reduce nagging. Once in the store, have children help you find items on the list. Read food labels out loud and talk about the choices you are making.
  • Invite your children to cook with you. They are more likely to try new foods if they’ve helped to prepare them.
  • Hold family “taste tests.” Buy a couple different brands of a healthy food (whole grain pasta, for example), and let family members decide which tastes better.
  • Offer choices among healthy options. At snack time, ask if your child would like an apple or a veggie wrap.

Snack healthy. Nutrition-packed snacks give kids critical energy for afterschool activities and homework. Healthy snack ideas include:

  • Fruits (sliced or cubed, applesauce or dried fruit without added sugar)
  • Vegetables and dips (try carrots and ranch dressing, celery sticks and peanut butter, snap peas with hummus)
  • Whole grains (pitas, tortillas, rice cakes, popcorn, granola)
  • Low-fat dairy foods (yogurt)
  • Nuts and trail mix

Reduce sugar:

  • Offer water, low-fat milk, or 100 percent fruit juice instead of “juice drinks,” sports drinks, or soda.
  • Do not give sweets or candy as a reward. Try nonfood rewards (inexpensive collectibles, bookmarks) or family activities (a trip to the playground) instead.
  • Try not to keep tempting high-calorie foods in the house, but don’t restrict sweets altogether. Allowing an occasional special treat teaches children to create a balance between healthy foods and sweets.

Watch your own habits:

  • Avoid fast-food restaurants by planning meals and snacks in advance, before leaving home.
  • Eat only when you are hungry. Teach (and show) your children healthy alternatives to eating when they are bored, frustrated, anxious, or sad. (Exercise, reading, and working on a project are good options.)
  • Fad diets that cut out entire food groups or severely restrict calories are neither balanced nor healthy. Lead by example, and discourage your children (especially teens) from trying fad diets.

For more information and ideas: