Mon. May 20th, 2024

Healthy Eating Habits – How They Affect Our Kids

From the first day, we worry about our kids getting enough to eat. Find out how parent-child interaction during feeding may influence kids’ weight and relationship with food.

How healthy eating habits have positive effect on our kids.

Doctor’s Tip: What our children eat affects their current and future health

We keep reading that childhood obesity is on the rise in the U.S., and — as we export our lifestyle worldwide — in the rest of the world as well. Experts tell us that this is the first generation of kids in history that won’t live longer lives than their parents. We can no longer call type 2 diabetes adult-onset diabetes, because so many overweight kids have it.

The food industry does its best to get Americans — starting at an early age– addicted (literally) to salt, sugar and fat (the latter often in the form of added oil). Let’s look at Amy’s Organic Mac and Cheese for example. Parents think that if it’s organic it must be healthy, so they buy it. One serving has 400 calories, with 16 grams of total fat including 10 grams of unhealthy saturated fat. It also has 640 grams of salt (the maximum safe amount for an adult is 1500 grams, much less for a child). It contains 6 grams of sugar — 4 grams is a teaspoon.

Good nutrition starts in the womb. We know that alcohol during pregnancy causes fetal alcohol syndrome. Eating fish raises levels of PCBs and of heavy metals such as mercury, in the mother and fetus. Eating green leafy veggies increases folate levels in mother and fetus, which is linked to a lower rate of neural tube defects. source


A Lifetime of Health Starts in Childhood

A lifetime of health begins in childhood. The food choices given to children impacts the relationship they have with food as adults.

“Early childhood is the formative, developmental period where children can be set on a lifetime path of good health,” said Dipti Dev, associate professor and child health behavior Extension specialist in the Department of Child, Youth, and Family Studies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “It is during this critical time that children develop eating behaviors that transition into adolescence and adulthood.”

Through Nebraska Extension, Dev works directly with families, teachers, and childcare providers teaching them healthy eating strategies. Specifically, she offers a series of on-demand, online modules with short videos to demonstrate science-based strategies for establishing healthy eating patterns with children, hoping to prevent health issues later in life.

“Healthy eating is important because it is the key modifiable risk factor for preventing obesity and chronic diseases,” Dev said.

 Best Practice #1: Promote Healthy Eating Habits Young

Early childhood is the time period where children discover what they like and dislike, according to Dev. Adults can use this to their advantage and lead children to healthy foods to help children make healthy food choices that lower the potential of having health issues later in life.

“Obesity and associated chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases, can all be modified by improving healthy eating,” Dev said. “If these habits are developed at a young age, it can create a lifetime of good health.”

Unfortunately, the majority of children in the United States fail to meet dietary recommendations, according to Dev. Therefore, she suggests children should be encouraged to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats, and less of foods high in sugar and saturated fats.

From birth to five years of age, children are able to self-regulate their caloric intake or eat when they hungry and stop eating when they are full.  Adults can support children to actually listen to their internal cues of hunger and fullness. Dev calls this mindful eating. Promoting mindful eating cues carry into a child’s adult life and help them respond appropriate to their hunger and fullness signals.

When children learn to eat healthy options when they are young, they are more likely to continue doing so into adulthood. Dev said promoting healthy eating habits at a young age is critical to overall adult health.

Best Practice #2: Responsive Feeding

The best way to teach children healthy eating is to practice responsive feeding.

Dev said responsive feeding means being active and attentive to the hunger cues of a child. For instance, if the child acts full, ask them if they are “full”, rather than if they are “done.” Doing so sparks a response from the child where they determine if they need more food.

Responsive feeding also pays attention to how the food is being presented to the child.

“Responsive feeding can be as simple as changing the way people present the food to the children,” Dev said.

For example, if children are taught that dessert is a “reward” only after they eat fruits and vegetables, it causes a dislike and resentment for fruits and vegetables. Instead, treating the foods equally changes the way children view those types of food. Doing so can also take the struggle out of mealtime.

Dev warned that forcing or bribing children to eat specific foods is not usually successful.

“Avoid coercing or pressuring a child to eat and avoid giving them bribes or treats,” Dev said. “These are actually counterproductive to encouraging good eating habits.”

Instead, following a child’s hunger cues and presenting food equally can make mealtime much more enjoyable.

Best Practice #3: Role Modeling and Food Exposure

Being a role model for children and exposing them to various foods also promotes healthy eating habits, according to Dev.

“Children are influenced by adults, especially at a young age, so childcare providers, parents, grandparents, and teachers can all serve as role models for healthy eating,” Dev said.

For example, the adult caregiver should try to eat healthy food themselves and have a variety of healthy foods available. They can also use descriptive words such as “crunchy” or “juicy” to create interest in the food for children.

The child may take more interest in food they are exposed to if the adult is also interested, Dev said. The child is also more likely to like these healthy foods and continue to like them into adulthood.

Further, creating exposure can be fun and there is little pressure when children are given different choices.

“Children are naturally curious, and they want to explore,” Dev said. “Allowing them to explore new, healthy foods will expose them to different options and find what they like.”

Dev said offering healthy food options does not need to be expensive and offers suggestions for budget conscious families.

“Families might consider attending farmers markets or creating a garden in the backyard and growing vegetables,” Dev said. “Children will watch and learn these modeled behaviors.”

Frozen fruits and vegetables are an inexpensive way to provide healthy foods for children, Dev said. Families can also purchase bags of lentils or beans for soups, burgers, etc. that last quite a long time or purchase only seasonal fruits to keep down costs.

In the future, Dev hopes to improve healthy eating by creating a Community Learning Healthcare System, seamlessly integrating technology and best practices into one system, while considering all stakeholders within the system. She plans for this to be scalable, transferable, and sustainable for use in hospitals, schools, and nursing homes.

For more information about Dev’s research of promoting healthy eating among young children or the EAT Family Style Programming, visit


Encourage Healthy Eating Habits

Healthy eating is essential to a child’s well-being. Children who are overweight are at risk for chronic health problems. The Weight-control Information Network (WIN), a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), offers guidance to parents and caregivers on how to encourage healthy eating habits in children.

Tips for Families to Help Children Eat Healthy

  • Eat breakfast every day. Skipping breakfast can leave your child hungry, tired, and looking for less healthy foods later in the day.
  • Plan healthy meals and eat together as a family. Eating together at meal times helps children learn to enjoy a variety of foods.
  • Buy and serve more fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned). Let your child choose them at the store.
  • Buy fewer soft drinks and high fat/high calorie snack foods like chips, cookies, and candy. These snacks are OK once in a while, but keep healthy snack foods on hand too and offer them to your child more often.
  • Start with small servings and let your child ask for more if he or she is still hungry. It is up to you to provide your child with healthy meals and snacks, but your child should be allowed to choose how much food he or she will eat. One tablespoon per year of age for each component of the meal is a great place to start when considering serving sizes for young children.
  • Offer your child water or low-fat milk more often than fruit juice. Fruit juice is a healthy choice but is high in calories.
  • Eat fast food less often. When you visit a fast food restaurant, try the healthful options offered.
  • Do not get discouraged if your child will not eat a new food the first time it is served. Some kids will need to have a new food served to them 10 times or more before they will eat it.
  • Try not to use food as a reward when encouraging kids to eat. Promising dessert to a child for eating vegetables, for example, sends the message that vegetables are less valuable than dessert.
  • Make healthy choices easy by putting nutritious foods where they are easy to see and keep high-calorie foods out of sight.

Healthy Snack Ideas

  • Fresh or frozen fruit, or fruit canned in juice or light syrup
  • Small amounts of dried fruits such as raisins, apple rings, or apricots
  • Fresh vegetables such as baby carrots, cucumber, squash, zucchini, or tomatoes
  • Reduced fat cheese or a small amount of peanut butter on whole-wheat crackers
  • Low-fat yogurt with fruit
  • Graham crackers, animal crackers, baked pretzels, or low-fat vanilla wafers

The 5-2-1-0 Message Provides Suggestions for Building Healthy, Active Lives

  • Eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day.
  • Keep screen time (like TV, video games, computer) down to 2 hours or less per day.
  • Get 1 hour or more of physical activity every day.
  • Drink 0 sugar-sweetened drinks. Replace soda pop, sports drinks, and even 100 percent fruit juice with milk or water.

Be Supportive

Throughout any process or program that you undertake to address your child’s eating habits, be supportive. Help your child set specific goals and track his or her progress. Reward successes with praise and hugs. Be positive.

Tell your child that he or she is loved, special, and important. Children’s feelings about themselves are often based on how they think their parents and other caregivers feel about them. Children need compassion, understanding, and encouragement from caring adults.

Note: Foods that are small, round, sticky, or hard to chew, such as raisins, whole grapes, hard vegetables, hard chunks of cheese, nuts, seeds, and popcorn can cause choking in children under age 4. You can still prepare some of these foods for young children, for example, by cutting grapes into small pieces and cooking and cutting up vegetables. Children should always be supervised during meals and snacks. source

The challenge of feeding kids

Feeding kids healthy is easy…said no parent ever! As a parent, I know feeding kids is challenging. It can require a significant investment of our time and financial resources. I wanted to share with you why I think it is worth it, some ideas on how to approach it, and ways your family might consider making changes.

Teaching our kids the importance of healthy food is a skill worth cultivating.

Showing our children how to prioritize healthy food and moving their bodies can be valuable tools that can help them build health that lasts a lifetime. Like many of the important tools we strive to equip our children with, it is not something that just happens for most parents. I know first hand it can require hard work, preparation, and often perseverance. It is not the path of least resistance, some days it can feel nearly impossible, but in the end it can be a worthy investment of our time and money as parents.


The first five years is an essential time for growth, health, and development for young children.

90% of the physical brain develops in the first five years of life, and nutrition plays a critical role in that brain development. Emerging evidence now places nutrition at the forefront as a tool for mental health prevention for children. Early food experiences and feeding strategies for young children will lay the groundwork for a lifetime of food preferences, behaviors and health. This doesn’t mean that it’s too late to make changes. It just reminds us that the sooner we start, the easier it will be for our children to make these changes sustainable.

When possible, try to model a healthy food relationship for your child.

Help them understand what these foods do for their bodies, teach them to understand their hunger cues, and expose them to as many whole, nutritionally dense foods as possible.Why does this matter? The percentage of children with obesity in the US has more than tripled since the 1970s. Today, 1 in 5 are considered obese (CDC, 2017). Estimates show 25% of children have a chronic health condition (asthma, allergies, eczema, obesity, physical condition, behavior / learning challenges) (CDC, 2017). Trends show that 1 in 3 children born today will have diabetes by 2050 (CDC, 2010). Much, but not all of this is preventable. We as parents of this generation have the ability to change the course of our children’s lives.What we feed our children and physical activity are two of the most powerful choices we can make for your children’s future health outcomes. While your genes play a role in the risk of developing these chronic diseases, we now know that 70%-90% of the outcomes are determined by behavioral and environmental factors (diet, inactivity, and smoking) that we can influence.

We can’t control our children’s genetics, but we can help them make choices that determine how our children’s genetics come to life.

So how do we do this as parents?

We as parents decide what, when and where children eat (this especially rings true for younger children). Our children decide how much and if they will eat at all. This approach, often referred to as the division of responsibility, a term coined by feeding expert Ellyn Satter. I encourage parents to focus on providing regularly scheduled meal times, a distraction free space for eating, and access to a variety of healthy foods throughout the day (vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, healthy fat, and lean protein) with as little distractions as possible. When you prepare a meal, build a meal that offers at least one thing you believe each child will enjoy and hope for the best. This doesn’t mean there are not days your children are incredibly disappointed with your choices. You will not get it right all the time. Children are unpredictable beings, so we just enjoy the ride! Celebrate the good days and remember there is always tomorrow.

Give your child(ten) room to decide if they will eat and how much they will eat. This can empower children to navigate their relationship with food and help reduce your power struggles around food. It is normal for children’s appetite to fluctuate. Try not to place to much energy and attention on the meals that your child barely touches from time to time. With this division of responsibility, children can have space to explore their hunger cues, learn how to eat appropriate portions to fuel their body and cultivate the language to articulate when they are full and when they are hungry. In most cases, children are incredibly capable of knowing how much to eat to fuel their bodies when given a range of good choices.

Try not to offer a 2nd meal on the days your kids feel less inclined to participate. If your child persists with hunger post dinner time, offer a healthy alternative when necessary. For us this might include a handful of nuts, olives, banana with almond butter, applesauce, or carrots.

What we feed children, influences what they will like.

Research validates that it takes children 10-20 experiences before they will enjoy and accept a new food. It is normal for children to be cautious around new foods and new flavors. The experiences we are creating for our children in utero and beyond are developing their taste buds. From an early age, try to offer a range of food experiences and flavor profiles. Introduce your children to the foods and flavors your family enjoys. Consistent exposure of new foods will help your children flex their muscles at being willing to explore a larger variety of foods. If children experience the same meals over and over again, this can lead to children a narrow list of foods they are willing to eat.

One of my favorite ways to increase variety in a child’s food preferences is to start by offering their favorite foods in a range of preparations. Once they find more flexibility in how they are willing to eat some of their favorite foods, you can expand from there.

Can you find the time to sit down to a meal with your family?

Sometimes siting down to family meals can feel impossible, especially with full time working parents and long commutes. I make this request as someone who understands that time is not always on our side and so many of our family schedules feel as if they are conspiring against us. Yet, I also know some families with these circumstances who found ways to prioritize this and have seen great shifts in their children’s relationships with food. Sitting down for a family meal helps children understand healthy food is a priority for your family and it gives children an opportunity to slow down and appreciate their food. Family meals can be a chance to connect with your family and create good eating habits. Even if it’s only on Sundays or the weekends, try to make space for sitting down together when you can.

If you are hoping to make changes or shifts to your family eating routine, making a plan and including your children in the process can be helpful.

Remember, changes can feel hard to everyone. Try setting realistic goals for your family and share your goals with the children. Weekly meal planning can often set families up for success. Consider creating a grocery list and budget to ensure you have what your family needs to stay fueled throughout the days ahead. Make a list of dinners for the week and ask your children to each come up with one dinner idea for the week. Creating this list allows your family to consider your busiest days and upcoming kids activities.Talking to your kids about changes you plan to make in order to get their buy in. If age appropriate, include your children in coming up with ideas or alternatives food ideas that fit into your new goals. Consider other ways you can invite them to be a part of the plan. Can they help clean out the pantry, grocery shop, explore the vegetables in the produce aisle, chop vegetables, cook, pack their lunches, and read labels? For younger children, you could explore ways to eat your way through the rainbow in fruits and vegetables, make it fun! Small changes and conversations can send big signals to children about what is important.

A great place to start when trying to make changes is by reducing the presence of distracting foods in your home and finding alternatives for these foods.

Clean out the foods that you feel are the biggest distractions towards your family goals. Often these foods get in the way of being able to make better choices. Start by not restocking the foods you no longer want in your home. Find a place to start; the snack foods, the breakfast options. There is a time and place for sometimes foods, but reducing their abundance in your home will make your job a lot easier. Be sure to offer alternative ideas for your children to replace these foods and consider their input. Go at a pace that is sustainable for your family and allows you to make lifelong lifestyle changes.

When possible and your budget allows, look for whole, minimally processed foods. Experts agree, eating whole foods is best choice your health. Whole food is defined as food that is been minimally processed and refined and does not include additives. This means that the foods are as close to the original source as possible. Rely heavily on whole, unprocessed foods to fuel your growing family. Eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, and whole grains will be valuable for growing bodies. Eating the rainbow of vegetables and fruits will allow your children to access so many important nutrients they need.

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your parenting adventure. The internet is filled with a vast amount of resources, ideas and support groups to help family learn more and find ways to overcome the challenges that their individual family’s experience. Remember, there is not one “right way” to eat for every individual. Everyone is making compromises in some way as we navigate the complex food system. Try to find balance between foods that serve your family’s health, the convenience foods that get you through a busy week, and sometimes foods your family enjoys for special occasions. Some days will be better than others. We are all a work in progress!  source