Kids’ Healthy Eating Habits Start at Home

Kids’ Healthy Eating Habits Start at Home

Parents are the perfect influencers when it comes to improving their kids' diet and fitness. Starting good habits early can have positive long-term effects on kids’ health.

Wondering where to start? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers guidelines leaving site icon to help parents take real steps to prevent obesity. Everything from smarter grocery shopping and portion size to cooking with your kids, healthy snacks, sleep, screen time and exercise are covered.

Clear and easy to read, the guidelines offer a simple road map to nurture the kind of healthy lifestyle choices that can serve kids well for their lifetime.

Maximize the Home Advantage

Parents get to set the rules, decide what’s in the fridge and pantry, and which activities and entertainment their kids can access in their home. Make the most of that time. Steer them toward healthy choices by starting with these basics:

  • Keep unhealthy food out of your home. Kids won’t be tempted by sugary snacks and other unhealthy foods if they aren't around. When your family enjoys treats for a special occasion, buy or make them right before the event. Keep them out of sight until the event, and get rid of them right afterward.
  • Put healthy foods front and center. Keeping water, fruits, vegetables and other healthy snacks out in the open increase the chances that children will choose these healthy options. Kids should be encouraged to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Cut screen time. Limit the amount of time kids spend sitting in front of the television or computer. Create a house rule that limits screen time to one or two hours a day. More importantly, enforce the rule. Parents need to be good role models and limit their own screen time, too. If your kids see you following your own rules, they’re more likely to do the same. Parents may also want to consider having fewer TVs in the home. Keep electronic devices out of the kitchen and all bedrooms.
  • Get enough sleep. Children should sleep at least nine hours a night. leaving site icon Those who sleep less are more likely to be overweight or obese. Establish a good bedtime routine to help kids get the sleep they need for their overall health and well-being.
  • Try fun group activities. Multi-task. Combine family fun with logging the recommended 60 minutes of daily activity. leaving site icon Schedule active time each day. Bike, hike, swim, do outdoor chores or play in the park as a family. Team sports are another good choice. Choose times when you’re already together and everyone has a lot of energy. Provide toys that encourage movement. Bikes, balls and jump ropes are all good choices.
Make Mealtime Family Time

Gather around the kitchen or dining room table for a little family togetherness. Family meals are a great time to talk to each other. Research shows that families who eat together tend to eat more nutritious meals. Make eating together a priority. Try to have family meals at least two or three times a week.

What about those non-stop days that last from sunup till the last soccer practice? Eating well doesn’t have to take a lot of time. The best way to help kids fuel up on good foods is to provide healthy options for every meal and snack. When they fill up on nutritious foods, kids have less room for unhealthy options.

Ditch the Fast Food

Children consume extra, empty calories when they eat fast food. Instead of hitting the drive-through, try these fast, at-home meal ideas.

  • Blend up a smoothie. All you need is ice, milk or yogurt (fat-free or low-fat), and fruit. Bananas, berries and peaches are good fruits for smoothies.
  • Soups, stews and casseroles make great leftovers. Double the recipe and freeze the extras for a fast meal later.
  • Whip up a one-pan stir-fry with lots of vegetables and a lean meat like chicken or shrimp. Use vegetable stock or a small amount of oil for flavor.
Keep Healthy Grab-and-Go Snacks on Hand

Stock your kitchen with these timesaving, kid-pleasing options to make snack time a snap:

  • Dried fruit
  • Low-fat yogurt, cheese and cottage cheese
  • Nuts
  • High-fiber, low-sugar cereal
  • Pre-packaged or pre-bagged fruit and veggies and low-fat dips like hummus
  • Baked snack chips
  • Low-fat microwave or air-popped popcorn

Remember, when parents are positive role models, they help shape kids’ behavior and put them on a path to well-being. Kids learn by watching parents make healthy choices.

Sources: Obesity Prevention, AAP Policy Explainedleaving site icon American Academy of Pediatrics, 2019; Children and Sleep, leaving site icon Sleep Foundation, 2023; How Much Physical Activity Do Children Need?, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022

Originally published 9/17/2015; Revised 2017, 2021, 2023