Nutrition for Kids: Super Simple Ways to Teach Healthy Eating
Good nutrition is critical to your kid’s everyday life because these healthy foods provide a wide range of benefits for children. According to Family Doctor, these benefits include:
- Stabilized energy and moods
- Improve mind
- Ability to maintain a healthy weight
- Prevent mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, and ADHD
One of the best ways to get your child to eat healthy is to teach him or her about nutrition and healthy eating. This is especially important for young children, according to researchers for Parental Influence on Eating Behavior:
“The first five years of life are a time of rapid physical growth and change, and are the years when eating behaviors that can serve as a foundation for future eating patterns develop. During these early years, children are learning what, when, and how much to eat based on the transmission of cultural and familial beliefs, attitudes, and practices surrounding food and eating.”
The good news is, you don’t have to be a dietician or nutritionist to teach your child about healthy eating and good nutrition. Use these super simple ideas to help your child learn about making healthy decisions now so they’ll continue to do so in the future.
Role Model Good Nutrition
In the report, Influences on the Development of Children's Eating Behaviours: From Infancy to Adolescence, the authors explain that an authoritarian style of feeding—when the demands to eat healthy are high and responsiveness to your child’s needs are low—promote overeating, food rejection and picky eating. These behaviors make it hard for your child to be receptive to healthy eating and learning about nutrition.
Authors note that, “there is consistent evidence that the responsive ‘do as I do’ approach has a stronger positive effect on children's consumption patterns than the unresponsive ‘do as I say’ approach to parenting.”
That means the first step in teaching your child about healthy eating and good nutrition is to role model the behavior yourself. When you show what it means to care about good nutrition, your children are more likely to follow in your footsteps. With less pressure, you can talk openly about making these healthy food choices.
Spending time in the kitchen is the perfect opportunity to teach your child about one of the most important aspects of good nutrition: cooking at home. This gives your child a chance to learn the basics that don’t come naturally, like boiling water before adding the pasta or how to choose the best cooking oil to use.
It’s also a way to engage picky eaters, according to Nimali Fernando, MD, MPH, FAAP. Fernando says, “For a hesitant eater, tasting an unfamiliar food can sometimes be intimidating. You can help your child explore foods when cooking using other senses besides taste. This helps to build positive associations with food.”
To make the most of this opportunity, encourage your child to get their hands dirty—literally. Fernando explains that doing tasks like kneading dough, tearing lettuce or rinsing vegetables allows them to touch and get comfortable with texture, which is often a challenge for picky eaters. Don’t forget to point out the smells of a chicken roasting in the oven or the zest of a fresh orange lingering in the air.
Involve Them At Every Step
Eating healthy foods starts at the grocery store, and though it can be a pain to bring your little one along, this step is important for empowering them to eat healthy, suggests PBS Food and Fitness: “If you involve kids in planning meals, going grocery shopping, and preparing food, they will become invested in the process and more likely to eat. Even toddlers too young to make grocery lists can help you make choices (pears or nectarines? cheddar or swiss?) along the way.”
Go over your list on the way to the store and give your child a few items to find themselves. They’ll have to pay close attention to every food item they see, allowing them to actively learn and participate throughout the whole process.
Good nutrition doesn’t require you to eat steamed spinach and chicken every day. Teach your child about getting a portion of their daily fruit and veggie intake with delicious smoothies, rather than eating these foods whole.
This opens them up to an entirely new world of healthy eating that doesn’t involve peas and carrots on a plate. Flavorful smoothies often have the texture of an ice cream shake too, allowing you to introduce these healthy foods in a format that’s both familiar and exciting.
When making smoothies, don’t forget about adding healthy fats and protein. For healthy fats, turn to foods like avocado, coconut milk or other dairy products like yogurt. For protein, check out Healthy Height Shake Mix, developed and tested by pediatricians. It comes in chocolate and protein, allowing your child to enjoy a tasty smoothie that’s also healthy.
Learn more before making your first smoothie or shake with, Secrets to Make the Perfect Protein Shakes for Kids, and then teach your child as you make it together.
Give Them a Choice
You empower your child when you give him or her a choice. This is especially helpful when teaching them about good nutrition because getting them to eat vegetables can be challenging. Instead of making it feel like a chore, give them a choice, suggests Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN.
Levinson says, “Offer two healthy choices at a time, ‘would you like red peppers or baby carrots.’ This way, kids feel like they have control over what they are eating—plus research shows they’ll eat more of the food they choose. By offering choices, it teaches them what eating will be like in the real world.”
Focus on Fueling Their Body
Playing sports is the perfect opportunity to talk about nutrition in terms of how the right foods can fuel your body, suggests Jackie Burning, PhD and RD. She explains that educating your child on healthy nutrition, in relation to sports, helps you teach about the value of food for their sports performance, rather than putting foods in a “good” or “bad” category.
However, this also has one other important benefit, according to Burning: “Learning early in their lives to focus on the positive impact food can have on their bodies’ performance—rather than concentrating on things like body fat percentages and ideal weights—might help prevent some children, particularly young women, from developing unhealthy attitudes that could sabotage not only their on-field success, but also their health.”
Step Out of the Kitchen
Food doesn’t come from the grocery store, there’s one step before that. Take your teaching out of the kitchen to explore where food does come from. If you have access to a local farmers market, that’s a great place to start. This is the perfect opportunity to teach your child about the value of eating local foods. Nutrition.gov suggests some of these benefits include:
- Fresh, seasonal foods are at the peak of their nutrition and flavor.
- Fresh fruit and vegetables are full of antioxidants and phytonutrients.
- You can try new foods that you’ve never had before by eating only what’s in season.
This is also a chance for you to find unique preparations and recipes to try with your child. Your little one can even talk with the farmers and learn more about the source of their food. If you want to take the latter one step further, visit a local farm. Many offer volunteer days, where children and adults alike can learn about how food is grown, where it comes from and how it gets to the grocery store where they buy it.
Nutrition for Kids: It’s Time to Teach
There are many super simple—and fun!—ways to teach your child about good nutrition and healthy eating. Use these ideas to instill these values in your child at a young age, while teaching them about where food comes from, how it fuels their body and so much more.