Helping Kids Develop Good Eating Habits

Do you have any tips for parents who want to inspire their children to maintain a healthy diet? Our two children are still very small, but we want to start training them early to develop good eating habits.

The first thing you need to realize is that little children – toddlers and preschoolers – often display wide variations in their desire for food. A ravenous appetite one day followed by picking and dawdling sessions the next aren’t at all unusual. So don’t become obsessed with the amounts of food your kids are consuming. Your job at this point is to provide an appropriate mix of healthy options. Their job is to decide how much of each (within reason) they will consume.

If you need a calorie estimate of your children’s needs, figure about forty calories per pound of body weight per day. A child weighing 35 pounds, for example, will consume about 1,400 calories per day. Between 25 and 35 percent of those calories should be in the form of fats. Milk should be kept to a maximum of 16 ounces a day. Vitamin supplements are not necessary at this age, but if you have any special concerns, check with your doctor.

In the coming months, you will want to pay more attention to the patterns of your children’s food intake than to the details of what they eat at any given meal. In particular, you will want to keep the following in mind:

  • Emphasize variety and freshness. The average North American supermarket contains a dazzling selection of vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats. Children should be exposed to this rich diversity at an early age. Remember that fresh foods are more nutritionally intact than frozen or canned items.
  • Resist the encroachment of sugary, salty, fatty, and otherwise low-quality enticements. Your kids may be getting the good stuff at home, but advertisers are working overtime to lure their taste buds in other directions. While you still have control over what lands on their plates, do what you can to mold their tastes, and don’t let them manipulate you into buying products that are short on nutritional value.
  • Don’t allow food to become an accompaniment to a whole gamut of other activities. Eating is a good thing to do when your kids are hungry or when the family sits down together for a meal. Period. It should not become a cure for boredom, a pacifier for a stubbed toe, or a bribe designed to get children to do what you want them to do.
  • Don’t turn meals into power struggles. If you provide a wholesome selection of foods at a meal and your children seem uninterested, don’t fight over it. Don’t make it the main subject of conversation or force them to sit for hours at the table until they’ve cleaned their plates. Instead, put the food in the refrigerator and take it out again when they get hungry. Whatever you do, don’t be badgered into making something special for them at every meal, and don’t allow them to get stuck in a rut of three or four foods that are “the only things they ever eat.” They won’t starve if you stick to your guns and hold your ground.

Regular mealtimes are another important part of the formula. While busy schedules may rule out formal dining three times a day, there should be at least one meal a day when the family gathers together around the table at the same time. Dinner is the usual choice, but for many small children breakfast is the biggest meal of the day, and socializing at that time may be more productive than later in the afternoon or evening. For some families, one or two meals a week – perhaps Saturday breakfast or Sunday dinner after church – can also serve as special times of togetherness.

If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

The No-Gimmick Guide to Raising Fit Kids

Focus on the Family Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care

Sound Advice on Healthy Eating (broadcast)


Healthy Living resource list




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