Health Library

Categories > Children’s Health > Nutrition and weight management

How do I get my children to eat healthfully?

These tips will help you encourage your children to eat well. The best part? They won’t even know what you’re up to!

  1. Set a good example. A child who sees his or her parents enjoying fruits, vegetables and a variety of other healthful foods prepared in many different ways is more likely to accept those foods. By the same token, a child who watches his or her parents reach for potato chips and ice cream will want to do the same.
  2. Don’t start your own chapter of the clean-plate club. When a child is full, he or she will stop eating. If parents insist that a plate be left clean, a child learns to ignore the signals his or her body is sending. That can lead to overeating and, eventually, obesity.
  3. Downplay dessert. If your children are still very young, don’t get in the dessert habit. Instead, make it a family custom to eat fruit at the end of a meal. If you have older children who are used to dessert, stop offering it automatically. When children ask for something sweet, offer them fruit, raisins, yogurt or low-fat treats like animal crackers or Fig Newtons. Never use dessert as a reward—not even for eating all the vegetables on a plate!
  4. Don’t praise or criticize what your child chooses to eat. Food should be a neutral area—not attached to any emotions (either positive or negative) or to your child’s self-esteem. In fact, the best thing parents can do is stay out of a child’s meal once it’s prepared and on the table. At any given meal, you’ve done your job if you present a variety of good foods, at least some of which you know your child will eat.
  5. Don’t use food to comfort a child. It’s tempting to offer a cookie to distract a crying child, but doing so will likely encourage him or her to associate food with comfort. Instead, offer to play a favorite game or read a special book.