Nurturing Nutrition for Kids

Dena Person, RDN, CD and clinical dietitian for UnityPoint Health – Meriter, shares how we can set a healthy example for our kids.

What is the trick to getting your kids to eat healthy? YOU! If you eat healthy and provide options for nutritious foods, your kids will be more likely to eat them. Here are some tips to foster healthy eating habits.

Keep trying. There are some foods that kids just don’t like — which is the same for adults! If a meal contains a food your kids don’t like, offer an alternative. For example, if your kids don’t like broccoli, consider offering green beans and broccoli. And, continue to offer healthy foods your kids may not have liked in the past. It can take up to 15 tries for a child to like a food, so keep trying.

Keep fruits and vegetables on hand and have them easily accessible during snack times. After school or while you’re cooking dinner, have a bowl of cut-up fruit and/or vegetables on the counter. Fruits and vegetables are great any time of the day, and can be eaten raw or cooked. Aim for three to four servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

Have meals together as a family as often as possible and try to eat at home more often than out.

Keep in mind what drinks are available. Soda and juice both contain too much sugar. Milk has nutrients that are good for kids’ development, so stick to milk and water. (Keep in mind milk alternatives, such as soy or almond milk, may not provide the same amount of protein or calcium.) Flavored waters that have no calories but taste sweet will contain artificial sweeteners. These, as well as diet drinks, should be kept to a minimum. Get kids in the habit of drinking water.

Make mealtime fun. Don’t stress, and try not to make a completely different meal for your child than what you’re eating. Having kids help plan and prepare meals for the week can also motivate them to try and enjoy the food that is being served. Having breakfast for dinner is one way to keep dinnertime fun! Another idea is having fun sauces to dip vegetables in. The best ingredient for dips is plain, Greek yogurt. Add fruit to the yogurt for a sweet dip to pair with fruits. (Adding fruit to yogurt also makes a tasty smoothie!) Try adding ranch dressing mix, pesto, salsa or curry to the yogurt for different flavors. Hummus is also a flavorful, high-protein dip.

Finally, don’t make dessert a reward, make it part of the meal. Dessert doesn’t have to be a daily indulgence, and it should never be the reward for overeating. Everyone has days when they are hungry and days when they are not — children do as well. A 2017 study concluded that participants who ate dessert first before their meal maintained their weight. The participants who ate dessert last tended to overeat and experienced weight gain.

Ultimately, you know your children best. I have two children who eat very differently, so I choose different eating strategies for each one. Keep modeling good dietary behaviors and setting the example for having a healthy relationship with food, and you and your children will reap the benefits for many years to come.


This article is sponsored by UnityPoint Health – Meriter.

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