Are you wondering how you can instill healthy eating habits for kids in your own house? Healthy eating for kids can be tough. Scratch that – it can be downright difficult. And frustrating. And worrisome. Are they eating enough? Are they eating too much? Why won’t they eat the food I make? Are they getting the nutrients they need?
So I want to simplify it a bit for you. Food and meal times should be enjoyable and a time to connect with family! (Not always realistic, but a goal to strive for, right?) I’m here to help you feed your family nutritious, well-balanced meals that are, most-importantly, EASY! This page is all about the methods (and thinking) behind the meals.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
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Disclaimer: These are tactics and approaches that have worked well for my family. As always, run everything by your Doctor and/or Pediatrician. And of course, all kids and families are different. But you know this. 🙂
Healthy Eating for Children – Philosophies
I have two main, BIG philosophies when it comes to healthy food for kids and healthy eating for children. It’s such a massive topic, that it feels really hard to even begin somewhere. But when I think about the big approaches in our house, I can distill it down to two main approaches.
- Division of Responsibility
- Exposure, exposure, EXPOSURE
Division of Responsibility
Let’s start with the division of responsibility. This approach was designed by the Ellyn Satter Institute. Satter is a registered dietitian and family therapist that I’ve followed for years, whose mission is to “help adults and children be joyful and confident with eating.” Her method is that the parent/caretaker role is responsible for the what, when, where aspect of the meal and the child is responsible for the how much and whether to eat the foods offered.
Ok, let’s soak that in. YOU decide what goes on the plate, when it’s meal times and where meals will be eaten.
CHILD decides what to eat and how much to eat.
If this sounds too simple – it is! But it’s also not. The hard part is to relinquish control and just let them decide. If you spend meal times trying to convince your kids to eat certain foods and telling them that they should be eating certain foods this will be very hard to do at first! But eventually, you’ll get in the habit. And the immediate benefit? Meal times will be infinitely less-stressful!
Why is this important? This method allows children to listen to their own bodies. We are born with the innate skill of giving our body what it needs. Eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re not. Over time, we lose this and if you’ve tried to get back into mindful eating yourself, you know that it’s really hard to gain this back. Trust that they can do this for themselves!
Want to see real life examples? I share my kids plates on instagram stories – before and after meals. You can get a visual that will show you how much what they eat varies. Sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s not! 🙂
Exposure, Exposure, EXPOSURE
This is the other important piece of my approach. I’ve always adored the way French families feed their kids. I read about this style in Bringing Up Bebe, and Getting to Yum: The 7 Secrets of Raising Eager Eaters and have loved it right away. Not all of it is entirely realistic given that we live in a very different country, but…
My takeaway is that kids don’t need kid food! And their tastebuds don’t need to be catered to. (Except with things that aren’t appropriate for babies: honey, sugar, salt). Give them flavor!
I made the decision to start my kids on solids that were full of seasonings and flavor – and primarily vegetable-based. Not because I have anything against fruit (I don’t!), but because a lot of the baby food found at stores all tastes like applesauce. It was important that my kids tasted these foods and flavors – they don’t need to be masked by apples! With my first, I made purées that were vegetable-based and full of flavors like basil, curry, and african peanut stew. (Recipes are below!) With my second, we did more of a baby-led-weaning approach with some of the same purees.
Adventurous Eater Tip: let your kids sample foods in the kitchen! This is a request that I try to always appease (if it’s safe, obviously!)! If it’s something that they may not enjoy (ie. raw potato) I’ll mention that we cook potatoes so they may taste better/different once we cook them, but I’ll still let them try. I think it’s help them be adventurous eaters.
FAQs – Healthy Eating for Kids
What if they don’t eat their dinner and then they are hungry later?
Whenever I talk about the division of responsibility, I get this question. You’ll need to decide what’s right for you. Because this doesn’t happen on a regular, daily basis at our house, I’ll often give them a snack before bed if they are hungry. BUT, it’s usually something with some nutrition like a cheese stick or some fruit/veggies. If you have snacks like crackers or cookies, they may not want to eat their dinner…so they can have their snacks!
How do I teach my child healthy eating habits?
Teach your child healthy eating habits by modeling them! Eat dinners as a family (if possible!) and eat the same meal. Eat meals that are full of flavors and colors. Have set meal times so that kids aren’t grazing all day. Show them what a healthy relationship to food looks like.
How do you explain healthy eating to a child?
This answer may surprise you, but we don’t actually talk a lot about “healthy eating” at our house. We don’t label food as good or bad – it’s all food! We talk a lot about food: how it tastes, what it looks like, how we cook it, where it comes from.
The only thing that we sometimes talk about is treats and just that we don’t have them at every meal – not that they are bad.
How to feed your child healthy food?
Feed your child healthy food. Wait, is that enough of an answer? Serve balanced, nutritious meals to your family…and then let them decide what they eat. Serve nutritious food that tastes delicious. And expose them to the flavors over and over and over again. At first they may throw it off their plate. Then they may touch it. Then they may taste it. Then they may eat it. Sometimes it takes a while and a lot of exposures.
I put picky in quotes because I really don’t like to label kids as picky eaters! I have a few approaches to this:
- Expect it. Your kids are going to have strong opinions about the food you put in front of them. No matter how many meals of quinoa and broccoli you feed them, the time will come. And it’s 100% normal. If you go into it expecting that it will happen, it will be that much easier!
- Don’t label it. They aren’t picky, they are learning to eat a wide-range of food! Some foods may take 15 (or more!) exposures before they will accept it – or eat it. Just as it takes time and practice to learn your colors or learn to read, kids need to learn to eat. Some will do so easily and quickly – others not so much.
- Look at snacks. This is super common and an easy fix. Parents think their child is picky because they aren’t eating a lot at meals…but really it’s just that they aren’t hungry! When snacks have been adjusted, they eat more! I know this one is painfully obvious in my own kids as well.In an ideal world, specific snack times would be set. If it’s not time for a snack, then they’ll need to wait. (Obviously this doesn’t always work, right?) Snacks can become a vicious cycle of always snacking –> not being hungry at meal times –> needing a snack shortly after. The problem with this is that they are eating mostly snack foods, which may not have the nutrients they need.Veggies before dinner: this snack strategy has worked really well for us! Click here for all the details.
Healthy Food Recipes for Kids
I truly consider all of the recipes on my site appropriate for kids and families! But, I have some specific meal ideas that are geared more towards babies, toddlers and kids.
How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables
Healthy Greek Yogurt Dill Veggie Dip
25 Finger Foods for Babies & Toddlers
5 Healthy Breakfasts for Kids
5 Healthy Lunches for Kids
100+ School Lunch Ideas for Kids
Healthy Snacks for Toddlers
21 Best Healthy Costco Snacks for Kids
Baby Food Recipes: (many of these come from my instagram account, follow me there to see what our family is eating!)
Shop my Favorite Tools for Healthy Kids
Shop my amazon store for are the products that I’ve found to be incredibly helpful when feeding kids! I will receive a small portion if you purchase products that I recommend. This does not affect your price at all and helps me to create free content.
Resources to Help Promote Healthy Eating for Kids
There are so many incredible resources out there to help you on this journey! Here are some of my favorites:
- Veggie Buds Club: Want to get your kids excited about vegetables? This subscription box comes full of crafts, games, and recipes to get your whole family excited about seasonal produce. (As a craft-challenged mom, I love that I don’t have to think about these!)
- Plant Based Juniors: Registered Dietitians Whitney and Alex share helpful, research-based pediatric nutrition advice. (You don’t need to be plant-based to find helpful information and yummy recipes!)
- Mama Knows Nutrition: Kacie is a Toddler Dietitian who specializes with picky eating! She’s full of great information and plenty of low-sugar meals and snacks.
- Veggies & Virtue: Pediatric Dietitian and creator of #loveitlikeitlearning it – a great technique for getting your kids to try – and learn – to like new foods.
- Chi Kids Feeding: Feeding specialist and creator of food chaining – another great technique for getting your kids to try new foods.
Phew! If you made it this far…?More questions? Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org