Building healthy eating habits: 3 tips for busy parents

Children's Health

by Alessandra Stasnopolis, RDN, LDN

May 2, 2024

Parenting young kids can be hectic, and prioritizing healthy food at mealtimes may not always be on the top of your list. But ensuring kids are well nourished means they grow and develop properly, as well as build the foundations for healthy habits throughout their lives. So, teaching kids about balance, listening to their bodies and body-image can set them up for success as they grow into adults.

If you’re looking for tips on building a balanced plate, creating delicious snacks and fostering a positive relationship with food, read these tips for encouraging healthy eating with your kids.

Healthy eating: 3 tips for parents

The key to most things in life is balance. You can instill healthy habits and encourage your children to take care of their bodies each day in three ways.

  1. Encourage your kids to incorporate a variety of foods, from fresh produce to sweets, into their daily diets.
  2. Include your kids in all aspects of meal prepping and planning to get them excited about cooking at home.
  3. Explain how to be in tune with their hunger and fullness cues.

When I speak to families, I understand that there are so many factors that play into decisions they make around food and children eat on a daily basis:

  • Socioeconomic factors
  • Food access
  • Lack of time and support
  • Lack of nutritional knowledge
  • Personal food preferences
  • Cultural background
  • Chronic diseases

It’s important to offer nutritional advice that meets people where they are instead of unrealistic and restrictive expectations that don’t fit into every family's lifestyle or mold. A balanced approach to nutrition is key—no one is perfect!

Healthy eating habits for kids

Children have certain foods they enjoy but these may not be considered nutritious when eaten by themselves. Instead of taking food away from your kids and increasing the risk of disordered eating habits and restrictions, think about what you can add to a meal or snack that might be missing.

If your kiddo really loves sweet cereal, try to add peanuts, nuts or fresh fruit to the cereal to provide more fiber or cow’s milk, soy milk or pea protein milk to ensure the cereal has more protein and nutrients in it.

All foods are good for you in some capacity. We have some foods that nourish the soul (I like to label these as “fun foods”) and we have some foods that nourish the body and keep you healthy. Keep in mind that some foods might be in both categories, depending on your child’s energy and nutritional needs.

If you want to add more nourishing foods into your kid’s diet, look for things rich in fiber and protein, and try and add in fresh fruit and vegetables where possible. The focus should be on meeting the kid’s taste preferences and hitting those nutritional goals.

How to make healthy kid's snacks

Breaking down snacks and mealtime into food groups can be an easy way for the whole family to focus on meeting their needs. You want snacks to include:

  • A protein
  • A carbohydrate that has fiber
  • A fat
  • A tasty treat your kids love

This might look like:

  • Apple slices (a carbohydrate that has fiber)
  • Peanut butter (has both protein and fats)
  • Chocolate chips (a tasty treat)

Keep in mind that there are times you may not be able to use this blueprint for snack time and that’s okay because life happens. Give yourself grace if you can’t hit this goal every time. If you have any questions about your child’s nutrition or eating habits, ask your pediatrician for guidance.

Healthy foods for active kids

If your kids are particularly active, they will need to eat more and consume more easily - digested foods to meet their energy needs, such as pasta, bread, fruits and snack foods.

As long as your kid is eating food that has protein, carbs with fiber and unsaturated fats, alongside the fun foods, they’ll be receiving a well-rounded diet that keeps them healthy and gives them energy for their sports and activities.

It's all about balance, which looks different for every child. For example, electrolyte drinks are crucial for kids playing outside for more than an hour, especially if they are playing a sport. These drinks are made for extended exercise but might not make sense to consume when kids are watching TV at home.

Teaching your kids about the importance of a well-balanced diet will instill healthy habits from a young age. If you’re looking for more wellness advice, subscribe to the Scrubbing In weekly newsletter.

About the Author

Alessandra Stasnopolis, RDN, LDN, is a clinical dietitian and wellness coordinator in the Baylor Scott & White Health wellness department.

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