How to Help Children Develop Healthy Eating Habits

The best way to ensure good eating habits in your child is to have good habits yourself. Several studies show that young children will, over a period of several weeks, eat a satisfactory diet—as long as they are offered a broad range of nutritious foods.

One research project presented toddlers with an array of milk, cheese, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and so on. The children could eat what they wanted, using their fingers, and they received no advice or interference from any adult. Three amaz­ing findings emerged:

  • The children tried everything eventually, and only rarely did they eat a large amount of any one particular food—quite incredible, given a toddler’s almost predictable rejection of vegetables when they are given to him by his parents.

  • Not one child had a stomachache, even though the project lasted for several weeks.
  • Analysis of the contents of over 35,000 meals revealed that the children had all eaten a perfectly balanced diet, almost as though a dietician had planned their meals in detail.

However, these young children were allowed to eat only from a range of wholesome foods. Nobody appears to have repeated the experiment using potato chips, candy, and cakes! So, you should know the sorts of foods your child should eat. You may well find, when you actually make a note of your child’s food intake over a two-week period, that his eating habits aren’t as bleak as you first thought. Everything your child eats contains at least one of these substances:


Helps the body grow and keeps it in good repair. Children need more proteins than adults because basic body tissue—the brain, muscles, blood, skin—is growing quickly. Animal protein is obtained from meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products, while vegetable protein is obtained from cereals, nuts, legumes, and root vegetables.


Provide essential energy, but when too many are consumed, the excess is changed into body fat and stored until needed. The main carbohydrates are sugar, starch, and cellulose. Carbohydrates are present in sweet foods (such as jam, cakes, candy, cookies, chocolate) and in starchy foods (such as bread, potatoes, rice, lentils, flour).


Another source of energy; some fats include vitamins (see below). Fat is present in meat, fish oil, and some vegetables, and can also be in solid form (such as butter, lard, mar­garine) or in prepared foods (such as French fries, potato chips, sausages, cream, mayon­naise). Excess fats are converted into body fat. Current studies show that all fats, espe­cially animal fats, should be reduced. Don’t eliminate them entirely, though. The best fats are unsaturated (vegetable) and unhydrogenated (cold-pressed) monounsaturated fats (olive oil is a great example).


Encourages good digestion and discourages constipation. Fiber (roughage) is found in fruit and vegetables, whole-grain flour, breads, and cereals, as well as nuts and legumes. Breakfast cereals that contain oats, wheat, or bran contain fiber.


Our bodies cannot manufacture most vitamins, so they have to be obtained from food. The main vitamins are

  • vitamin A: for healthy skin and night vision (found in fish, cheese, eggs, butter, chicken, spinach, carrots);
  • vitamin B: allows the body to obtain energy from food (found in milk, liver, cheese, whole-grain bread, oats);
  • vitamin C: for bone development and healing (found in fresh vegetables and fruit, especially citrus fruits);
  • vitamin D: builds strong bones and good teeth (found in fish oil, liver, dairy pro­duce, and sunlight);
  • vitamin E: strengthens blood cells (found in oats, brown rice, liver, nuts, legumes, and whole-grain cereals).
  • minerals Occur naturally in the earth, and are present in most foods. The main minerals are

  • calcium: forms bones and teeth (found in milk, cheese, yogurt, canned salmon and sardines, green vegetables);
  • iron: prevents anemia by building red blood cells (found in red meat, eggs, bread, cereals, green vegetables);
  • salt: maintains the body’s water balance (and already present in many foods);
  • fluoride: important for teeth formation (now found in some water supplies, infant vitamin supplements, toothpaste).

Your child needs a variety of foods every day so that he will grow fit and healthy. The amount your child should eat at mealtimes depends on his particular body size, height, age, daily routine, and metabolism. Episodic growth spurts often cause a temporary surge in appetite, which returns to its previ­ous level following the growth spurt. Give your child portions that you know he can eat. If your child struggles with dinner, serve the meal as finger-food.

Filed Under: Food & Cooking


About the Author: Leona Kesler is a head-chef at a very popular food restaurant in New York. Also she is a blogger who shares her experiences, tips, and other informative details about food and cooking. Her recipes are featured on many magazines.

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