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7 Ways to Instill Healthy Eating Habits in Young Children

Studies show that when kids learn to eat healthy as children, they eat healthy for the rest of their lives. But it can be quite the challenge to get your kids to choose fruits and vegetables over the ubiquitous delicious-but-not-quite nutritious options at the grocery store or in the vending machine. Here’re a couple of tips that will help you get your little ones to gorge on the good stuff.

 

Lead by Example

Most kids want to be just like their parents. If you want your kids to eat fruits and vegetables, you have to eat fruits and vegetables too. Children are susceptible to complaints and can internalize them into negative self-talk that lasts their entire life, so make sure to use positive talk when you’re discussing the power of plants.


Cook Lightly

When vegetables are overcooked, they turn into a goopy, gross mess. Kids are very sensitive to textures and flavors. A goopy mass of vegetables is not appealing to anyone, so skip the intense cooking and canned veggies in favor of lighter options. Steaming, light pan-frying, and gentle roasting helps bring out the flavor of vegetables, retains their texture, and preserves their nutrients. In order for your kids to choose vegetables, they have to like them, and properly cooking them helps. Remember that it may take several small tries before a child learns to like a vegetable, so don’t give up the first time you prepare a vegetable.

 

Let them Pick

Kids love to have a choice. If you let your kids pick out fruits and vegetables, it increases the chance they will eat them. Because kids want to be seen as responsible and in charge, they will make themselves enjoy the vegetables they pick out.

But, you should also help your children make smart decisions. If you know they don’t like a particular food, don’t let them pick it out.

little girl at a farmer's market

Pile on the Flavor

Herbs, spices and other flavorings can help enhance all meals, including your garden-grown dishes. If you’re not familiar with many herbs and spices, start slowly and work your way up. Experimentation is key to success in the kitchen! Pick one particular spice and use it in several different meals. Every one or two weeks, explore another herb or spice. Another way to get your kids involved is by letting them pick out which herb or spice to try next.

 

Don’t Forget the Finger Foods

Let your kids eat with their hands. Forcing kids to use utensils like adults tends to take some of the fun out of meals. When kids use their fingers to eat, they focus more on the food and the enjoyment they are getting. By associating happiness and pleasure with vegetables, they’ll be more likely to want to eat them later in life. As your kids get older, you can use this as a lesson in etiquette. You can explain when it’s appropriate to use your fingers and when it’s appropriate to use a knife and fork.


Introduce a Few Extras

Dipping sauces and dressings can help gently nudge picky kids towards eating more fruits and vegetables. You can let them choose between a healthy ranch-style dressing, oil and vinegar, Nutella, or peanut butter. Any salad dressing or dip can transition a picky eater into a vegetable fiend. Once your kids get used to eating vegetables with the dips, make sure they go lightly. Too much dressing or peanut butter can negate the health benefits of your fruits and vegetables.

 

Keep the Good Stuff Readily Available

When kids are hungry, they want to grab quick snacks on the go.  Having apple slices, grapes, carrot sticks, and all sorts of fruits and vegetables, preferably organic, ready will help your kids choose them over less healthy options. Many times, chips and candy are chosen over fruits and vegetables for the simple fact that they’re easier.

Grapes are an excellent first choice to keep out readily accessible. Just wash them and toss them in a bowl in the fridge. You can also preserve apple slices in the refrigerator by tossing them in a little lemon juice. The lemon juice stops the browning process.


A great snack to have on the go is simple to make. Put some raw almond butter or peanut butter in the bottom of a mason jar and add slices of carrots, peppers, and broccoli. Kids can just reach in, pull out a pre-dipped snack, and enjoy.

bowl of fruit on a wooden table

Bonus Tip

Many parents are worried about being seen as too strict with their children. This allows children to begin dictating what they want to do when they want to do it. It happens very often around mealtime. It’s your responsibility to feed them well and to establish good habits. Being strict now will help save them in the future. Good parenting means setting boundaries and enforcing the rules.

If you follow many of the tips above, your kids will follow your example and eat their fruits and vegetables. Soon after, they will begin enjoying them, too. Healthy and responsible adults start by eating fruits and vegetables and listening to their parents.

 

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Michael Donaldson

Dr. Michael Donaldson is a chemical engineering graduate of Cornell University and now Research Director of the Hallelujah Diet. He has spent the last 18 years studying people who have experienced health benefits through diet and published scientific research on its benefits for fighting fibromyalgia, cancer, diabetes, and other ailments. His work consists of designing and coordinating epidemiologic and clinical intervention studies based on specific symptoms or diseases and focuses on the results of the Hallelujah Diet.

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