Updated October 8, 2020A healthy diet is essential for a child’s health and proper development. Eating well promotes better mood, healthy weight, and brain development and prevents mental disorders and health conditions as your child grows older.The primary food groups children need to develop properly are vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein. Introducing healthy foods to your children from a young age promotes better eating habits they will use through their adulthood. While it’s not always easy feeding your children vegetables versus a bag of chips, the outcome is worth your time and effort.Seeds and NutsSeeds and nuts such as peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts, and sunflower seeds should be a staple in your child’s diet. They provide healthy fats, fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, and protein. Eating seeds and nuts gives your child energy and is good for their central nervous system. Most seeds and nuts can be purchased as nut butter or you can make your own. Serving nuts as butter is preferable since they are a choking hazard when served whole.Nuts and seeds are a common food allergy, though early exposure to these foods may reduce your child’s risk of developing an allergy or sensitivity. If you’re concerned about adverse side effects after eating seeds or nuts, contact your doctor immediately.EggsEggs provide healthy fats and are a good source of protein, having 6 grams of protein per egg. Additionally, they contain iron, vitamin D and B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. The food is known to aid children’s concentration and brain development.Although eggs contain cholesterol, saturated and trans fats are more concerning for children’s health. Overall, eggs are an important part of your child’s diet. They’re also an easy breakfast food and a good first solid to give to your babies.MilkCow’s milk important part of your child’s bone development. It contains calcium, vitamin D and B, potassium, phosphorus, and is a good source of protein. For children who are lactose intolerant or have a dairy allergy, try making your own nut or seed milk at home. There are easy devices that do this nowadays, like the Almond Cow. Making dairy-free milk at home will ensure the milk is filled with nutrients and not processed. Stick away from soy milk, as this is filled with phytoestrogen, which disrupts your child’s hormonal balance and growth. Coconut milk is a great choice, as it is filled with healthy fat and naturally sweet.Fresh FruitFresh fruit is a vital part of a well-rounded diet for children. All different fruits contain nutrients including potassium, fiber, vitamin C, folate, pectin, quercetin. Fruits are known to strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of diseases for when your children get older.For fruits such as apples, plums, and peaches, a lot of the vitamins are in the skin, so encourage your kids to enjoy them skin-on if possible. Regardless, fruits make for a great dessert or snacks for your children.Juice concentrates and fruit cups are loaded with added sugar, and while they are a fine occasional treat, they are not a substitute nutritionally for fresh fruit.VegetablesVegetables are filled with all different kinds of nutrients, including vitamins A, C, and K, and fiber, potassium, and iron. They serve important purposes such as improving gut health and promoting brain development.However, most children typically don’t enjoy vegetables, so it can be a bit tricky getting them to eat enough. Try cooking the vegetables or using them to replace carbs like pizza dough or pasta to entice your children to eat them. You can add them to smoothies with fruit to help with the taste. Whole GrainsWhole-grain foods such as whole-wheat pasta, bread, tortillas, oatmeal, and brown rice are full of the fiber children need. Whole grains are also a good source of protein, vitamin B, copper, and phosphorus. If your child has a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, keep in mind that whole grains contain gluten.YogurtYogurt is a simple snack or dessert high in healthy fats and protein. It also contains vitamin D and B, potassium, zinc, and probiotics to promote a healthy gut. Greek yogurt is favorable to traditional yogurt as it’s higher in protein and creamier. It’s best to choose yogurts without added sugar and instead add your own fruits or honey for your children to enjoy.Lean MeatsAll different sources of meat, fish, poultry, and red meat provide a range of different nutrients your child needs to develop, namely protein and iron. Iron protects your child’s immune system, supports brain development, and creates blood cells to carry oxygen throughout their body. Fish also provides omega-3 fatty acids that aid brain, nerve, and eye development.When choosing meat for your children, select proteins lower in fat, such as chicken breast, trout, sirloin steak, or round steak. Consuming saturated fat regularly can lead to issues such as high cholesterol or heart disease, so it is best in moderation.Tips to Encourage Healthy Eating HabitsAs a parent, you are teaching your children lifelong skills, and the habits you instill in them early on can ensure they have a positive relationship with food and healthy eating. “It’s important to treat children and their eating habits with respect. The best time to start eating healthier with your children was yesterday. The sooner the better! But, when starting later in life, a change to healthier eating must be done slowly and cautiously,” says Brittany Ford, RHN. Finding new and fun ways to encourage your child to eat well, such as cutting their sandwiches into fun shapes or encouraging them to cook with you, makes establishing good habits a little easier.Be a Healthy Role ModelChildren are highly influenced by those around them, often imitating adults or older children in their lives. As a result, you must stand as a good example of healthy eating if you want your child to eat well. You can’t expect your child to want to eat their fruits and vegetables if you’re eating fast food.Also, be sure not to comment negatively on yourself, whether it be on your weight, eating habits, or appearance, nor should you obsessively calorie count in the presence of your children. Normalizing a poor relationship with food or self-image in front of your children may harm their eating habits and self-esteem as they grow older.Try explaining the benefits of healthy food, even if your child is only 4 years old. Explain how it will make you feel better, think clearer, have more energy, grow into a healthier adult, etc. Constantly reaffirming this with your kids will go a long way. Positive re-enforcement is the best way to get across the importance of healthy eating rather than any sort of condemning, shame, blame, or disapproval. If your child chooses a candy bar do not get angry or upset. But rather explain the benefits of choosing something healthier. When they choose a healthier snack, praise them, and re-enforce this positive behavior as often as you can. Cook With Your KidsEncourage your children to get involved in the cooking process for their meals. You might even invite them to the grocery store to help you pick out ingredients. By giving them a role in the creation process of their meals, they’ll be more inclined to eat what’s in front of them.Give your child simple tasks such as measuring, mixing, or pouring in ingredients while you complete the bulk of the cooking. Not only will you pique their interest in food, but it’s also a great way for you and your child to bond and have fun.Keep Healthy Snacks AvailableAlways keep healthy snacks on hand and in the fridge. Children and teens make poor choices when they do not have the option to choose something healthy. Keeping homemade dips (with cut-up veggies), granola, muffins, bagels, and any other healthy easy to grab foods will help keep your kids healthy and full! Bake and cook these foods with your kids. Explain the benefits of each ingredient. Try including a trip to a local farm or starting a garden so children can understand better where our food comes from.Don’t Force Feed ThemWhile it’s your responsibility to introduce new and different foods to your children, don’t force them to eat what they don’t want, and respect their appetites or lack thereof. Being forced to finish food teaches them to ignore their hunger cues, leading to potential overeating or weight gain. Also, research shows that children who were forced to eat certain foods as kids have a distaste for them as adults, so you aren’t helping your child by pushing them so much.Giving your children the autonomy to choose what they will or won’t eat to an extent, such as choosing between hummus or ranch as a dipping sauce for their vegetables, helps them feel independent and in control of their meal choices.Also, don’t use food as a bargaining chip with your children, including offering dessert so long as they finish their broccoli. It only makes dessert more enticing and vegetables more of a chore for your child.Disguise Healthy FoodsA plate of plain vegetables or fruits may be a bit uninteresting or even gross to kids. It’s boring and bland in their eyes. To encourage your kids to have more nutritious foods, try offering them healthy options in new and fun ways. Cutting foods into fun shapes or giving them more enticing names, such as calling broccoli “trees” or cutting fruit into stars, makes them a little more interesting from a child’s perspective.Additionally, replace their unhealthier treats with their healthy counterparts, such as yogurt and fruit popsicles, smoothies, sweet potato fries, or zucchini chips. The foods are similar to their favorite snacks and will be appealing to your child while providing the nutrients they need.Slowly Introduce New FoodsChildren are naturally picky eaters and are often hesitant to eat new foods. When adding new foods to their diet, try introducing one at a time to give them time to acclimate and enjoy it. Also, it’s helpful to pair a new food or ingredient with something they already enjoy.For example, if your child’s favorite food is cheese quesadillas, start adding chopped spinach or bell peppers to it so they still have the tastiness of their favorite food, but with the added nutritional value of the vegetable.Be PositiveWhen encouraging your child to try new foods, always use positive language, and praise them when they eat well. Have a good attitude towards food for your child’s sake. Even if your child may be a bit frustrated when attempting to feed them healthier foods, patience and a positive mindset will make this time easier for everyone.Foods to Limit In Your Child’s DietIt can be easy to give you children unhealthy foods or fast food because they likely prefer it and will be less reluctant to eat it, but this is harmful in the long run. It’s best to limit your child from eating too much sugar, refined carbs, caffeine, and junk food in general.Eating unhealthy foods in excess can lead to hyperactivity, mood disorders, and increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes in children. Additionally, caffeine stops the body from absorbing calcium, depriving your child of the vital nutrients they need to grow.Still, kids are kids and you should let them enjoy less healthy foods from time-to-time. Entirely forbidding foods from your child’s diet will only entice them further. Also, teaching your child that some foods are “bad” may affect their relationship with food as an adult and trigger disordered eating. In actuality, no food is bad when enjoyed in moderation.You can also try making healthy alternatives to certain foods, such as cauliflower pizza, veggie tater tots, or whole-grain muffins.FAQsDo kids outgrow picky eating?Picky eating is a phase most children go through, typically lasting from ages 1 to 5. Most children grow out of their picky eating, though some don’t.If your child is resistant to eating nutrient-dense foods, try to hide them in more appealing children’s food, such as adding broccoli to mac and cheese or making fish sticks with whole-grain bread crumbs.What do you do when your child refuses to eat?A child’s resistance to food can be caused by pickiness, lack of appetite, reluctance to try new things, or mild sickness such as a cold. It can be frustrating and you understandably may worry your child is not receiving proper nutrients.To encourage your child to eat, limit distractions during mealtime, serve appropriate portions, don’t feed them late in the evening, and reduce their food and beverage consumption outside of mealtimes. Also, be patient and don’t force your child to eat as it will only make them more resistant. Remember, their stomachs are small and they may just have a smaller appetite.Is breakfast the most important meal of the day for kids?The value of breakfast is a commonly debated topic and researchers have not verified whether it’s the most important meal. Though, like other meals, children need to eat their breakfast. It provides the fuel they need during the day and school. Eating breakfast also decreases hunger during the day and may improve the overall quality of your child’s diet.Kids who eat a well-balanced breakfast have improved cognitive functions, such as better concentration, problem-solving abilities, creativity, hand-eye coordination, and are more physically active.How can I help if my child is overweight?Being a healthy weight is vital at a young age. Children who are a healthy weight are more active, learn better, and have better self-esteem. They’re also less likely to develop health problems as an adult. If your child is overweight, work with their pediatrician to help them safely lose weight, as what works for adults may not work for children.Always encourage healthy living to your child, not weight loss. Children are incredibly sensitive and putting too much focus on their appearance or a number on the scale can badly damage their self-esteem. Instead, encourage them to go out and play, ensuring they have roughly 60 minutes of activity throughout the day.Be sure to make gradual changes to your child’s diet and reduce the amount of processed and sugary foods they eat. Never encourage fad diets or supplements as they are harmful to young developing bodies. Also, have your entire family practice healthier eating to encourage your child, as having them eating broccoli while the rest of the family is eating pizza is unfair.How do I know if my child has a food allergy?1 in 13 children has at least one food allergy, and roughly 40 percent of those children have life-threatening allergies.As a parent, it can be difficult knowing what allergies your child may have, though common food allergies include peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, eggs, soy, and cow’s milk. Symptoms of food allergies include dizziness, cough, shortness of breath, hives, eczema, or swelling of the lips, tongue, or face.If you suspect your child has a food allergy, contact their pediatrician to identify that food is triggering them and how to help. In the case of a severe allergic reaction, call 9-1-1.ConclusionGetting your kids to eat healthily is a process and by no means easy. They’re young and don’t fully understand what “health” even is. Rather, they understand french fries taste better than celery. Still, your children will come around and be grateful for your determination and diligence. If you’re truly struggling with helping your child develop healthier eating habits, speak to their pediatrician for assistance.Not only does incorporating healthy food into your child’s diet promote better development and function, but the skills and habits they learn as children will help them lead better lives as adults. Children are stubborn, but with time and patience on your part, they will learn by your example.This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional. Comments Cancel replyLeave a CommentYour email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Comment Name Email I agree to the Terms and Conditions of this website.