Tips for Getting Children to Eat Healthier

The battle to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables is one waging in many households across the world; you want your child to eat healthy and instilling good eating habits at a young age is important. But, try telling a child he needs to eat right to ensure his health and you will not get very far—this is not a very convincing argument for someone who has no idea what blood pressure or high cholesterol is, or the dangers of an unhealthy diet. But, not all hope is lost, and there are some ways that have been found to make children more amenable to eating those fruits and vegetables you so want to them to. With a little patience on your part, and perhaps a willingness to change up some of your current strategies, you may make some significant headway in this frustrating struggle.


Get Creative with Plate Design

Research suggest that food presentation appears to be a major factor in determining how adults eat and a 2012 study by researchers from Cornell University and London Metropolitan University indicates the same goes for young children. For the study, a group of children aged five to 12 were shown 48 different food combinations and were asked which ones they wanted to most eat; adults completed an online version of the study, looking at the same plate combinations.

It appears that children have very different visual preferences when it comes to their food and tailoring meals to meet these preferences may help in getting your child to eat a larger variety of healthy foods. The most desirable plate was fashioned into some sort of picture, consisted of seven different items in six different colors—these were both the highest number offered in both categories—and had the main component of the meal at the bottom of the plate. So, it seems that the more variety and the more colorful that variety is, the more likely it is your child will eat what is on that plate. Many studies have shown that increased variety leads to eating more junky foods like ice cream and potato chips and it appears that the same applies for healthy foods as well.

Considerations for Parenting Strategies

Of all the different tactics we employ to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, they tend to all fall into the broader categories of teaching moments, practical methods (making the food more palatable in some way), disciplinary approaches (no dessert without finishing the meal), restricting junk food in the house and increased access and availability. A study of 700 parents and children from Texas and Alabama sought to uncover which methods worked better than others.

The difference in consumption between the different groups was statistically significant and the winners appeared to be the parents who employed teaching moments, such as encouraging a child to try a new vegetable but not having to finish it or allowing the child to pick out fruits and vegetables they liked, and increasing access and availability of healthy foods. These approaches take a more proactive tack and aim to help a child adopt preferences for healthy foods, while disciplinary approaches, such as making a child eat his vegetables or no dessert, is coming from a negative place in that you are working against the dislike. The researchers said these firmer approaches are not only less likely to work, they may actually intensify the problem.

Other Considerations

A British study that came out in May of 2012 suggests that the beverages you serve your child may influence his preferences for healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. Researchers found that when children were given water, they ate more vegetables than when the food was served with sweetened drinks. There may be a couple of reasons for this. First, sweetened beverages such as soda are usually associated with unhealthier foods like greasy French fries and hamburgers and the vegetables may have seemed less desirable. Secondly, drinking water rather than soda with the vegetables may have made the vegetables taste better. To have your child see you enjoying healthy foods is a common piece of advice in addressing this problem and another British study appears to back that up—it found that children were more likely to try a food they previously expressed dislike for when they saw a smiling adult eat that same food.

Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who enjoys sharing tips on how to get kids to eat better; if you are looking for some creative meal ideas, check out Hamilton Beach recipes for a listing of kid-friendly foods, such as the Monkee Face Banana Cupcakes.

Photo Credit: Hungry Child by George Hodan

20 Responses to “Tips for Getting Children to Eat Healthier”

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  1. mitchelle says:

    I’m just very thankful that I have no problem with it comes to this. My kids love to eat. These are very helpful, though.

  2. Great tips! I also think it’s important to get kids involved in the meal preparation process. By having a hand in preparing the meal on the table, they automatically feel a sense of pride in that meal and what they did to help prepare it, making them more open to eating it. After all, who is going to work to put a meal on the table and then not eat it, right?

    • Nicole Etolen says:

      That’s a really good tip! Thanks Holly! I really should let my son be more involved. At 7, I still do just about everything for him, although he does want to help prepare meals more often now.

  3. Great suggestions! Its always hard with young children! I try my hardest but some days I don’t have the fight in me! 3 against 1 is no fair!

  4. Shary says:

    I always see articles on “adorable toddler food” but I don’t have time to make butterfly sandwiches. I think people are ridiculous sometimes. I’d rather sneak stuff in…like serving zucchini cookies for desert!

    • Nicole Etolen says:

      I hear you on the adorable toddler food! I tried cutting everything into cute shapes for a while, but really, it was more hassle than it was worth. I still use the Funbites gadget that I have because it’s just fun sometimes, but for the most part, I don’t have the time to get all fancy!

  5. Cecile says:

    I didn’t know about the choice of beverages. I am trying to get my kids to drink more water because I believe it is healthier.

    • Nicole Etolen says:

      I’m also trying to get my son to drink more water. He’s a big milk fanatic, and while I do like the fact that he drinks it, I think it can be just as bad as sugary juice at times.

  6. Teresa says:

    Excellent, well-researched article. Very practical and easy tips for any parent to incorporate into their daily routine. Retweeting your link to this now!

  7. Tiffany C. says:

    I like your idea of getting creative with plate design. This is something I need to try and work on. My kids eat okay but they love to snack. We’ve been trying to swap one bad snack for fruit. It’s working so far.

    • Nicole Etolen says:

      My son is a mega-snacker! He eats pretty decent, and he’s a very healthy weight, but he likes to snack at night. I try to keep a variety of healthy fruits and other stuff that is good for him, he’ll choose those if they’re available.

  8. Darcy says:

    My daughter loves fruit – it’s veggies and ground beef she fights me on. Well she’ll eat a few veggies here and there. I try to get her to just try it… it works sometimes. I try to offer choices and that helps a bit.

  9. Dawn says:

    I believe that about soda. It has a very strong flavor to me and can overpower anything that you have it with, especially vegetables. Many of them have subtle flavors to begin with.


  10. Joe Hart says:

    Great tips..Will surely share this article with my friends…Getting children to eat the right kind of foods is a problem that has always been troubling.

  11. Heather M says:

    All very helpful tips! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Wendy @ ABCs and Garden Peas says:

    I agree about plate design! Also, letting them choose items to try in the grocery store is a big motivator, too. Healthy eating is a big endeavor, but worth every minute.

  13. Sarah says:

    My daughter rarely drinks water so we’re cutting back on milk and juices to encourage her to drink more. Never realized what she was drinking could impact her choices in food!

  14. Hello! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could find a captcha plugin for myy comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform aas yours and I’m having trouble finding one?
    Thanks a lot!


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