Raise healthy eaters—Part 1: For kids 2–18

How you approach feeding your children influences their food choices, the amount they eat, and their weight. While it’s important for kids to maintain a healthy weight, it’s also helpful for them to determine when they’re hungry and when they’re full.

Insisting kids eat more after they say they’re full can interfere with their ability to learn what “being full” really feels like. Trust that your child’s brain is sending signals back and forth to his or her belly, indicating “full.” And if children are offered a selection of generally healthy foods, they’ll eat the right amount and grow healthy. Read the rest of this article for specific tips you can use to help your own children eat healthfully as they grow. 

Schedule regular meals

Planned meals will go the distance when you offer kids a protein, starch, vegetable and fruit, plus a dairy source with each meal. Consistency in mealtime and the amount of food presented also helps children regulate how much they’ll eat. And with a regular schedule, they know when the next meal is coming and won’t worry or overeat.

Plan snacks

Since children grow rapidly, offer healthful snacks that help keep them satisfied between meals.

  • Resist giving them food outside of planned snack times.
  • Older kids tend to eat away from home more, so talk about how late they can snack before mealtimes.

Include fruits and vegetables with every meal

Children’s fruit and vegetable intake is higher when they see that their parents eat more of these foods.

  • Aim to fill ½ your plate—and kids’ plates—with fruits and vegetables. Visit MyPlate.gov for healthy recipes and meal ideas.
  • Think how certain fruits or veggies—and their colors, flavors, and textures—might complement meals and appeal to kids. Try steamed carrots with tofu or offer broccoli with chicken.
  • Encourage your kids to try new foods, but avoid making a “big deal” about what’s being served.

Introduce new foods gradually

While it’s important to introduce your kids to new foods regularly, it will take time for them to get comfortable eating ones they aren’t familiar with.

  • Pair familiar foods with new ones. For example, serve their favorite vegetable or starch with a new kind of meat

Involve your kids

Children tend to eat more of the foods they choose during meal planning.

  • Ask, “Would you like to have peas or corn for dinner tonight?”

Eat together

This is important no matter how old your children are. Kids want to learn to eat healthy. And they’re more likely to try new foods when they’re eating with adults they trust.Your goal is to prepare your kids to eat healthy anywhere—whether they’re at your table, with neighbors, at school, or even in military dining facilities.

  • Encourage your kids to stay at the table even when they’re finished, so they’re part of the conversation too.

Part 2 of this series offers nutrition tips for kids in certain age groups.

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