What Can Parents Do to Encourage Good Eating Habits?

Your child’s food habits tend to be influenced by you, other family members and immediate caregivers. The good news is, you can help foster good eating habits by responsibly selecting, preparing and serving your child his meals. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the numbers of cases of childhood obesity have tripled in the past 30 years. Therefore, it’s imperative you start encouraging healthy eating early enough so that you set the bar for healthier eating throughout your child’s life 4.

Lead by Example

You’re the main influence on your child’s healthy eating 4. If you want her to eat vegetables, you need to show her that you eat them, too. Telling your child to eat healthy but then eating foods high in fat and salt yourself counteracts what you’re telling her to do 4. Be open to trying new foods, and your child may follow your example.

Eat Together

According to a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children in families who share three meals per day are 24 percent more apt to eat healthy than children who don’t eat meals with their family. These children have also been shown to be 12 percent less likely to develop childhood obesity than children who don’t eat with their family. Create a healthy family event for each meal 1. Consider letting your child participate in the shopping and meal planning so that he has a say in a few healthy items he wants or doesn’t want for dinner that night. By giving him options, you’ll also help him develop independent healthy eating habits 14.

Avoid Distractions

Distractions during meals should be limited. While family discussions are fine, avoid eating in front of the television. According to the American Psychological Association, or APA, children who watch television while eating typically have unhealthy diets compared with children who eat without television 2. Make sure your child is also well-rested and calm during the meal – especially when trying out new foods. A cranky child is less likely to try a new food than a well-rested one.

Make It Fun

Just because it’s healthy doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Try cutting foods into fun shapes, using different textures or even adding in color so that your child is eating healthy but having fun in the process 4. Choose foods that are ready to be eaten and don’t require a lot of prep – especially during snack time. According to the APA, children are more likely to eat healthy if you make healthy eating convenient for them 4.

Stock Up

Keep your home full of healthy snacks and food items. Avoid stocking your pantry with sugary snacks, potato chips or other unhealthy food items. It is also important to limit the number of sugary drinks your child has each day or that you have in your home.

Don’t Battle

Never make healthy eating a negative situation 4. Food commonly becomes a source of conflict for children and parents, and if you find yourself bargaining junk food items to get your child to try healthy snacks, you need to try something else. Create a routine eating schedule for your child, so she knows when it’s time to eat. Don’t use food to bargain or as a reward. And never force your child to finish her meal – this can encourage overeating.