What can I do to make my kids eat healthier?

Kids do better with routine: Eat your meals at regular times. If your child can’t count on a regular mealtime, he may overeat at one meal, or snack on fattening foods between meals. Irregular eating keeps him from “tuning in” to his body’s natural cues for hunger and satisfaction which may lead to poor eating habits. It’s very important not to skip meals -- especially breakfast.

Eat as a family: Sit down and eat with your child. Involve them in helping to prepare meals. Talk about how healthy eating can help the whole family. Turn off the TV, radio and cell phones while you eating.

Plan meals and snacks: Healthy eating takes time and energy. Prepare snacks and meals ahead of time. It is important to feed your child before he is too hungry to avoid eating foods that are easy to grab and less healthy. Planning meals and snacks allows you to have healthy options available for your kids to grab on the go.

Drink more water: Teach your child to drink water when he’s thirsty instead of juices, sodas, sports drinks, sweet tea, or sugary powdered drink mixes. The extra sugar and calories in these drinks can keep your child from eating a healthy meal later. Also, drinks with a lot of sugar can lead to weight gain, and tooth decay.

Keep it simple: Limit your child’s choices at meals. Offer him several healthy choices of foods including some you know he likes. Then let him decide which of the choices he wants to eat.

Limit temptations: Avoid having a lot of junk foods such as chips, cookies and candy around the house; these are high in calories and fat. It is hard to keep from eating these foods if they are always around.

Limit TV time: Set limits on how much time your child spends watching TV and playing video games. Less than 2 hours daily is advised -- even less is better. Spending too much time just sitting can lead to weight gain. Teach your child to enjoy physical activity by encouraging them to play outside or by joining an athletic team. Kids need at least 1 hour of physical activity outside of school each day. Be a good role model for your child by taking stairs instead of an elevator or picking a parking space further away from a store entrance.

Make changes you can live with: Avoid trying to change everything about your child’s eating habits overnight. This will just frustrate you, your child, and the rest of your family. Focus on one or two problem areas in your family’s eating habits and work on improving them together.
Lynne Kenney
I recommend that families in my practice serve dinner for breakfast. Waking your kids up to a well-balanced breakfast with some protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats takes just a touch of planning. Whether it’s eggs, cheese, or meats in the form of stir-fry, a fritatta or pizza your child’s body is better fueled by protein and essential fatty acids than empty sugar calories.

Here are some other helpful ideas for you:
  • Eat whole foods, if it doesn’t rot or sprout do without.
  • Eat protein, fats and complex carbs at every meal. (When my kids want sugar, I say okay and you need to eat a piece of good quality cheese, four walnuts or four almonds with the treat, cause this slows down the digestion of the simple sugars and aides the body in staying stable).
  • Be simple, introduce one new food at a time.
  • Stop buying any boxed, bagged or canned food that has more than five ingredients on the label.
  • Try to focus on the sweeter ‘good for you’ foods, like strawberries, mandarin oranges, cherries, tomatoes, sweet peas, and sweet potato.
  • Add some finely chopped fruits to salads, add some pureed sweet peas to guacamole, and serve tiny vegetables, like baby carrots and baby corn, with appetizer dips.
  • Use pureed fruits for dessert.
  • Finely chop carrots, broccoli and green beans and mix them into spaghetti sauce, taco meat etc.
  • Make some fruit muffins -- banana bread, pear bread, and apple bread are all good.
  • Finely mince vegetables and add them to hamburger patties or turkey burgers.
  • Breathe and be patient, change takes time.
Phenomenal answers above, I am going to add something and keep my answer short and simple.

The best way to make your kids eat more healthier is to first take care of yourself. Being a parent we set the example for our children. We are our children's role models and who they look up to for examples and how to live their life. If we do not want our kids to smoke or drink when they get older but yet we are smokers and drinkers, what do you think the outcome is going to be?

With food we control what our children eat more than we realize. If we make good nutrition and exercise a part of our family life and if we are keeping ourselves in good shape and not cramming it down their throats but leading by example, do you think the chances of them leading a healthy life is going to be high?

If we don't like our children swearing but we swear all the time around them can we really expect them not to swear?

Fanatical diet people who throw super clean eating down their children will also put a bad taste in their mouth (excuse the pun). But if we eat healthy, make the healthy food taste good, be active and exercise, then and only then we give our children the best possible situation for having the desire for better eating and activity habits.
Doreen Rodo
Nutrition & Dietetics
One way that you can get kids to eat healthier is to add healthy foods to things that they like. For example:
  • Add corn, black beans or flax seeds to salsa and serve with your own baked tortilla chips.
  • Add Flax seeds to breads such as banana and use part whole wheat flour when making it.
  • Add puree vegetables to soups and stew to increase their vegetable intake.
One important thing when getting kids to eat healthy is to set a good example, so have some fruit with low-fat yogurt for a snack or add a banana to your morning cereal.
Diana K. Blythe, MD
To get your kids to eat healthy, start by eating healthy yourself. If you already are eating healthy, that is one less hurdle to cross. Snacks should be fruits and veggies and meals should be at least half fruits or veggies.

At the grocery store, do not buy junk food or sugary drinks. If you bring unhealthy food home, it will be consumed. Try buying lots of fresh fruit and veggies in many different colors. 

When you get home, cut up the veggies into smaller handheld pieces. Yes, this is tedious, but your goal is to get your kids to eat healthy. Some of my favorite veggies are sweet bell peppers in red, orange and yellow. They are crunchy and do not have a bitter taste. Fruits are easier and if they want to use a dip, buy yogurt for the dip.

Meals are a little different, but the idea is the same. Colorful dishes are more fun to look at and therefore more likely to be eaten. Try being as creative as possible and most importantly do not bring junk food home. If you have frozen junk food in your freezer and your kids complain, you may take out the junk food. Make it easy on yourself and do not buy the junk food in the first place.
An easy way to have kids eat healthy is to only offer them healthy options. You hold the purse strings. If you don’t buy it, they can’t eat it.

Have plenty of fresh fruit on hand sitting out on the table. Cut up a bunch of fresh veggies and bag them up for easy access. Nuts are a great snack as is popcorn.

When it comes to cereal, look for those containing 4 grams of sugar or less. If they want it sweeter they can add a banana or berries.

PB & J sandwiches are a kid staple. Smucker’s offers a low sugar version that is wonderful. The lower sugar has a much better fruit flavor then the regular and doesn’t contain the artificial sweeteners that the sugar free does. The same goes for peanut butter. Jiff offers one of theirs with 2 grams of sugar called “Simply Jiff”. Bread is never white. Always buy 100% whole wheat.

Remember little eyes are always watching. If they see you eating making healthy choices they are sure to follow.

Continue Learning about Healthy Eating For Children & Teens

5 Tips for Packing the Perfect School Lunch
5 Tips for Packing the Perfect School Lunch
For many parents, the most challenging thing about school isn’t picking up the kids from soccer practice or making sure they get their homework done. ...
Read More
Is cow’s milk a good source of DHA for young children?
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MDDr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Although breast milk contains significant amounts of docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, cow’s milk does no...
More Answers
5 Easy Tips for Quick and Healthy School Lunches
5 Easy Tips for Quick and Healthy School Lunches5 Easy Tips for Quick and Healthy School Lunches5 Easy Tips for Quick and Healthy School Lunches5 Easy Tips for Quick and Healthy School Lunches
Avoid lunch-making stress with these simple ideas. For many parents, the most challenging thing about school isn’t picking up the kids from soccer pra...
Start Slideshow
How Parent's Work Schedules Affect Kids' Weight
How Parent's Work Schedules Affect Kids' Weight

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.