How to Raise a Healthy Eater

By: Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D.

Nine tips to help teach your kids good eating habits.

boy making hummus

Getting children to eat healthfully these days is more complicated than just encouraging them to eat their Brussels sprouts. Studies suggest that many children often skip breakfast, they’re also eating more foods prepared outside of the home (which often means bigger portions), drinking more sodas and consuming less dairy. Teach your children good eating habits that ensure they’re getting the nutrients they need with these 9 easy shopping and healthy cooking tips.

Related: All the Healthy Kids Recipes You Need

1. Have a Family Meal

Healthy Oven-Fried Pork Chops

Pictured Recipe: Healthy Oven-Fried Pork Chops

This might seem obvious, but as our lives get busier, eating a family meal together is one of the first things to go. Make a point of sitting down together for dinner (or lunch or breakfast), slow down and enjoy your time together as a family. Studies show that kids who eat family meals get more fruits and vegetables, as well as calcium and they eat fewer processed snack foods. They also tend to do better in school and are less likely to feel depressed. Yup, family meals are a powerful thing. 

Related: A Month of Healthy Dinner Ideas for Kids

2. Stock Up

Limey Mango Chunks

Pictured Recipe: Limey Mango Chunks

What you stock your kitchen with will influence your children’s food choices. Leave ultra-processed snacks with neon colors and ingredients you can't pronounce off your grocery list. Instead, fill your cart with fruits and vegetables, particularly portable kid-friendly ones like apples, bananas and carrots. Other healthful snacks include frozen mango, yogurt and fruit, natural peanut butter and celery, and whole-grain crackers and cheese. Choose water or milk over soda to cut down on added sugars.

3. Get The Family Involved

Peanut Butter-Covered Pretzel Rod

Pictured Recipe: Peanut Butter-Covered Pretzel Rod

Allow your kids to participate in the grocery shopping and let them help you cook. The more involved they are in the kitchen, the more they'll be interested in trying what they helped create. Letting them choose their own snacks, from a few healthy options, will help them eat those snacks instead of less healthy ones. 

Related: Cooking Skills Every Kid Should Learn by Age 10

4. Kick Up The Calcium

Mini Pepperoni Pizza

Pictured Recipe: Mini Pepperoni Pizza

There are creative tactics you can employ to make sure your child is getting plenty of calcium. Add cheese to meals and snacks: put Cheddar in an omelet; add a slice of cheese to sandwiches; create mini pizzas by topping whole-wheat English muffins with pizza sauce and mozzarella; make grilled cheese sandwiches appealing by using cookie cutters to create fun shapes.

5. Delight Kids With Dips

Dark Chocolate Hummus

Pictured Recipe: Dark Chocolate Hummus

Diving vegetables and fruits into yummy dips makes lunch more fun. Offer apple slices with yogurt or peanut butter; serve carrot sticks with a side of hummus and cucumber spears with ranch. 

6. “Do As I Do.”

Pineapple Green Smoothie

Pictured Recipe: Pineapple Green Smoothie

If you're eating a bag of chips, don't expect your kids to reach for veggies. Be a role model and teach your kids to make balanced choices. They are watching more than you might think. Before you know it, you may be sharing your green smoothies and quinoa salads with your little ones.

7. Fill Up With Fiber

Kitty-Cat Oatmeal Bowl

Pictured Recipe: Kitty-Cat Oatmeal Bowl

Few kids crave a fiber-rich meal. But fiber is filling and when combined with drinking plenty of water, helps prevent constipation and keep things regular. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables all deliver fiber. Getting more fiber in their diets can be as simple as swapping in whole-wheat pizza crust for white crust, munching on popcorn instead of pretzels for a snack and choosing a high-fiber cereal or oats to start the day.

8. Know Your Portion Sizes

One-Bowl Monster Cookies

Pictured Recipe: One-Bowl Monster Cookies

Kids naturally eat when they're hungry and stop when they're full. But once they reach a certain age, they're much more likely to want to fill up on ice cream than broccoli. To help teach your kids reasonable portions of treat foods, serve single portions. Instead of letting the kids take an entire bag of chips or a container of ice cream to the couch; dish out individual portions in the kitchen first.

If you cook large batches of food and store the leftovers, separate them into smaller portions before you put them in the fridge or freezer. This way, your kids can automatically grab a single portion.

Related: This Prep-Ahead Kids Lunch Station Will Keep You Sane

9. Eat More Fruits & Vegetables

Kid-Friendly Salad

Pictured Recipe: Kid-Friendly Salad

Add more fruits and vegetables to your family's diet: they’re rich in vitamins and minerals, and most of us aren't eating enough. Eating fruit or vegetables at the start of a meal can help keep everyone full. Plus, offering produce when kids are still hungry can help them eat more. 

Related: 25 Vegetable Side Dish Ideas Kids Will Actually Like

Watch: How to Make a Pack-Your-Own Lunch Station for Kids

More Healthy Eating Ideas for Kids: