Promoting Healthy Eating Habits in Children

Healthy Eating

If you want to impart healthy habits to your children, then make healthy choices for yourself. Experts advise: Be active and choose nutritious foods, and help your children do the same.

By Karen Wagner, APRN, Renown Medical Group Pediatrics

One of the most challenging jobs as parents is to teach our kids healthy habits. And because kids look up to parents in everything they do — from the type of breakfast they eat to the type of shoes they like —it means we need to have healthy habits so our children see us making healthy choices.

Set the Stage for Good Health

Parents should start modeling healthy habits and behaviors as soon as a child is born. Little ones need an active environment with limited sedentary time, which includes discouraging TV viewing altogether until children are at least 5 years old. After that age, parents are encouraged to limit daily leisure screen time — TV, video games, computers — to no more than 1-2 hours of quality programming per day, and absolutely no TV in a child’s room.

Current dietary recommendations for children to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease support fat-free unflavored milk after the age of 2, avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages and encouraging lots of water intake. And mind your fats when feeding your kids: Saturated fat should be limited to 8-10 percent of daily caloric intake, and trans-fats should be avoided as much as possible. A child’s total fat consumption should not exceed 30 percent of daily caloric intake based on energy requirements.


Say Yes to Carbs

There are healthy carbs, and there are “junk” carbs. Healthy carbohydrates are made from whole grains, contain fiber, have little or no sugar and are darker in color. They should be eaten in small amounts at each meal or snack. Junk carbohydrates should be avoided — they have added sugar, are low in fiber, usually white in color, high in calories and cause weight gain.

So what do we offer our kids? Whole grain bread, noodles and crackers; yellow corn; low-sugar cereals; popcorn; pretzels and graham crackers; and, of course, fruit. Here are some more tips and simple rules to follow when promoting healthy habits in our children:

  • Offer a wide variety of healthy foods. Allow your children to take responsibility for what they choose to eat and how much they eat. Just provide them with good, healthy choices.
  • Be patient. Picky eaters can be a challenge, and many parents give in and resort to easy, unhealthy foods and snacks. Stay committed to providing your children with healthy options. And though it’s hard at times, continue introducing them to new, healthy foods.
  • Make eating well a family affair. Shop, cook and eat together. Talk and engage at your meals. Your children will learn how to make healthy food choices and gain a sense of ownership over what they eat. And you’ll get some quality family time together in the process.
  • It’s all about the healthy snacks. Keeping nutritious munchies on hand is easy. Options for healthy snacks at around 100 calories are numerous — a small banana, 12 baby carrots, or apple slices and peanut butter, for example.
  • Energy in, energy out. It’s all about the balance: More IN than OUT over time = weight gain; 
    more OUT than IN over time = weight loss. Striking a balance over time will help you stay at a healthy weight for the long term.

For more information about kids and healthy habits, visit United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) at MyPlate for a variety of interactive tools to make healthy habits a fun way to go.