6 Tips For Raising Healthy Eaters

Use these simple tips to help your kids understand how to make wholesome food choices on their own and to create an environment that will nurture healthy food habits as they grow.

1. Work with your kids’ natural preferences
Kids require frequent refueling–and they’d love to do it with fudge cookies and lollipops. “Children are born with a natural taste and desire for sweet foods and carbohydrates,” says Joel Fuhrman, MD, board certified family physician and author of Disease Proof Your Child (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006). Instead of fighting a sweet tooth, offer healthier treats, such as a colorful array of fresh fruit. “Preparation is key,” says Jay Holt, a nutritionist in St. Petersburg, Florida, and author of The Adventures of Tommy the Tomato (JR Holt Publishing, 2007). “Always have a fruit salad ready to go, or frozen banana, or apples to spread with almond butter. That way, kids will have a fast, nutritious alternative to a cookie.”

2. Involve the whole family
Cooking with your children helps you get them invested in making healthy choices and explain the nutritional value of various foods. At the grocery store, let them choose the fruits and vegetables that appeal to them, or make a game of it: Ask them to find their favorite green, orange, and red vegetables, or to choose which nuts or beans they’d like to add to a salad.

3. Encourage children to think about food
Raising healthy eaters also means helping them understand what their bodies are asking for, when they’re thirsty or hungry, and the difference between eating until they’re satisfied versus stuffed. Don’t get heavy or intense about it; just make the occasional observation, then let it go. And forget the clean-plate club–it’s the fastest way to encourage kids to ignore their bodies’ messages.

4. Don’t reward or punish with food
This sends the subtle message that food equals love and approval–a dangerous message, and one that’s hard to escape later in life. Instead of using food as a reward, offer treats that have more to do with connecting–a trip to their favorite park, hugs, an extra book at bedtime. And don’t fall into the “If you eat your peas, you’ll get your pie” trap. It makes dessert more valuable than vegetables–not a lesson you want to teach.

5. Take charge
Sometimes we’re so fearful of creating negative food relationships for our children that we shy away from insisting on good eating habits. Insist your children eat at least a portion of fruits or vegetables at every meal, and that they minimize sweets, refined carbs, and unhealthy fats. Tell them why that’s your rule–because you love them and want them to be healthy. “There’s no reason to be fearful of that message,” says Fuhrman, “or to believe that it will set up unhealthy emotional eating patterns later in life.”

6. Realize that it takes time
This will take time and repetition. Your kids may put up a fight, especially at first, and there will be setbacks. Stay calm and be matter-of-fact. Also avoid power struggles, and continue to set a good example with your own food choices. “They’ll notice what you and the rest of the family are eating,” says Pavka. “At some point, they’ll just come along for the ride.”

Delicious Living is the go-to resource for the natural and organic lifestyle, helping readers eat well, live green, and stay healthy. Visit deliciouslivingmag.com for more articles and free recipes.


Michele Wilkinson

Thank you

Rob Marchant
Rob Marchant7 years ago

My mum and dad didn't really push me enough as a kid to eat healthily, I used to point-blank refuse anything good for me. Now I love healthy food! Web Design Development Kent/London

Allies R.
Allies R.8 years ago

It really is worth teaching children about healthy eating froma young age – my son did go through a bit of a junk-food-fest stage in his early teens but by his late teens in his first part time job he always chose salad and fresh fruit juice from the staff canteen. And to this day he’ll not give you a thank you for white bread, it has to be wholemeal or he just isn’t interested

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Kathy R.
Kathy R.9 years ago

I have worked for 15 years for a nutrition education program for young children. Ellen Satter is a superb resource-she has several books that offer great suggestions. From my experience as a parent and from my work with young children- food can be a control that the kids use to make you crazy and it sounds like it works well for many children. Lighten up, make the meals fun but healthy. Let the children help you make the meal and then sit down and eat with them. Even a 2 year old can help tear lettuce for a salad. Do not cater to their whims. Offer several healthy choices and let them pick what they want. Have scheduled meal times and don't give in and let them graze between meals.If you stop pushing, they will eventually try more foods. The younger you start this process, the better. The next best suggestion for increasing appetite is to get them outside for plenty of exercise before meals! Remember we all have food preferences so not every child will learn to like every food.

Rebecca Young
Rebecca Young9 years ago

I am a big fan of Ellyn Satter, author of "Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense." That particular book is more focused on infants through pre-school, but her philosophy toward food and children really made sense to me, and has worked for me and my now almost three year old twins (who love fruit, veggies, beans, tofu - as well as the rare sweets they get!)

One of her theories that I found really useful is the "division of responsibility in feeding":

"Parents provide structure, support and opportunities. Children choose how much and whether to eat from what the parents provide."

So, as a parent, I aim to always make sure I am providing them healthy options to choose from, and I set the schedule for eating (and allow water or milk to drink at any time). Then I let them decide when they've eaten enough ("how does your tummy feel? is your tummy empty or full?") and which of the healthy options to eat. I don't cook special meals for them, but I do cook meals for the whole family that I think will appeal to them (so, no hot curries because my daughter doesn't like "too spicy!"). I try to always offer fruit and bread or pasta, something that's simple and I know they like.

I can't speak to issues with adolescents, but I'd recommend Satters books and website to all: https://ellynsatter.com/default.jsp

note: she doesn't seem to be a big fan of vegetarian diets but I still find her approach really

Haydee S.
Past Member 9 years ago

i have a 5yr old niece who doesn't want to eat her meal, we've tried our best to convince her to eat but she just refuses. sometimes we have to bribe her with junk foods just to eat a little bit. what could we possibly do let her like her food?

Lisa Bridson
Lisa B9 years ago

To Barbara. I have a god-daughter who will not eat a vegetable or fruit, hidden or not. My advice would be to be tough. When she comes to stay she is only allowed desert if she has tried everything on her plate. I don't make her finish everything, and I don't fight with her, but if she wants desert she must at least try stuff. Those are the rules for all of the kids, end of story. And then it is her choice whether to have desert or not. I am not being the ogre, IT IS HER CHOICE.

Having the other kids eating chocolate pud while she is whinging and moaning was a great incentive for her to try stuff. And guess what? When she ate three peas in her fish pie she realised they weren't so bad and ate the rest. And now peas are on the list of foods she will eat. Next time have to work on carrots or something.

Anyway, I hope this helps. I know it is often easier said than done.

Kirsten Bergen
Past Member 9 years ago

Some sound advice - thank you. But I too am fighting a losing battle with a very bright 3 and a half year old who flat down refuses vegetables. She accepts tomatoes (I told her, truthfully, that they are fruits), but forget anything else - other than some pumpkin. Most of the year I 'hide' the vegetable in her tomato sauces (blend it) and tell her it is tomato and vegetable, but it is very disheartening. Right now I've decided to stop worrying - it's more a fight to get her to eat anything other than fruit. Most mornings, by the time breakfast is ready, she'll have eaten 3-5 apricots and have a pile of cherries or blueberries on her plate and not want any bread. For snack at Kindergarten she wants joghurt (plain organic) and fruit, for lunch anything, as long as there is fruit ... dinner same.
Kids are strange creatures ...

Candace Weekly
Candace Weekly9 years ago

I don't have children of my own, but I'm surrounded by kids....here's my suggestions

Eat healthy yourself, especially when pregnant

Limit T.V. watching (the ads for those junky cereals are treacherous, let them watch PBS stuff)

Don't let them develop a taste for sugar/fat-laden, processed foods at an early age and that includes "organic" cookies and snacks; I know a two year old who HATES sweet things, if you can believe that!

Cook everything, including baby food

Talk about healthy eating when kids begin to talk and interact, with older kids, remind them of how lucky they are to be able to eat healthy food; tell them that kids in Third World countries aren't always so lucky to have fresh veggies and sometimes die because of it.

Stay away from kid's menus in restaurants; in Italy, the kids eat what the parents are eating, only in smaller portions. Of course be sensible, naturally you don't give young kids raw oysters! Most chefs who have kids are adventurous eaters as well. The trick is to start very early, and keep in mind, in our grandparent's day, they didn't have all this junky, crappy food loaded with fat chemicals, HFC and colors. If grandma made green beans and broccoli and chicken for dinner, if the child wanted to eat, then that's what they ate! No one was doing any special cooking for a bunch of kids!

Barbara L.
B. L9 years ago

I've done all of these things -- & still my younger son (13) refuses to eat healthily. Every meal is a fight to get him to eat anything green. And yes, I was hiding vegetables in food years before Mrs. Seinfeld. The problem with this approach is that they don't ever learn to eat a vegetable without making it 'hidden.' If anyone has recommendations, I'd love to hear them!!