Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Teaching My Kids About Healthy Food … and Getting Them to Eat it Too

Teaching My Kids About Healthy Food … and Getting Them to Eat it Too

Project Director

A lot about this parenting gig is unclear. There are often no right answers to our questions, or, more specifically, there are often no right answers to the questions our kids have. As we muddle along, we make choices--hopefully good ones. My daughter was finishing preschool when she asked me this question: Mama, what's better for you, a carrot or a banana? As I tried to explain to her that carrots and bananas each have their own fabulous nutritional benefits, she interrupted me (as 5-year-old girls tend to do) to say that a banana is the better choice because it's good for your brain, and while carrots are good for your eyes, you need to have a brain for your eyes to work. Not sure I can argue with this logic! And I was just pleased that she was taking the time to think about the nutritional value of food choices.


Do Your Kids Know How to Make Healthy Choices?


We try to do all the right things for our children and make the right decisions FOR them. We obsess over whether to sign up for Montessori preschool or the co-op down the street. We agonize over what backpack, what summer camp, what birthday party venue. And at the end of the day, we want our children to learn to make their own choices. There's nothing more simple and basic than learning how to feed oneself.


We used to have dinner-time battles with our daughter. It seemed so important that she eat the broccoli or carrots on her plate, and we would end up in a power struggle. It got to the point that just the utter suggestion of lunchtime or dinnertime would result in a tantrum. Was eating really such a dreadful idea to a small child? It's about control. Children want control over what they put in their bodies.


Now, we put healthy options on the table and encourage our kids to try--without forcing the issue. I include a bowl of sliced fruit as part of the meal and find that when our kids see it, they just start munching on apples or pears and forget the obligatory "yuck… I don't LIKE my dinner." The battle is diffused and little hands start reaching for other food options. I'm not saying this works for every family, but right now, it's golden for us.


What Does this Label Say? What's Even in This?


Now, as she is learning to read, should I expect our first grader to read complicated and confusing terms found on food labels? I want to teach her to make healthy choices for herself. But heck, even I don't know what's in some of those things at the grocery store. Sure, we grown-ups know we're not supposed to eat processed foods that have 12-syllable words on the labels. And there are many blogs and websites these days with suggestions and recipes for healthy foods. (A couple of my favorite blogs include and You've got the information at your fingertips. But do your kids?


Here's the thing: children are inherently eager to learn about how things work, and having early discussions about the nutrients in food and how those affect our bodies can have a big payoff. At the school Halloween party last year, I caught my little Rapunzel finishing her carrot sticks--or as we call any veggie: "grow food"--before even touching the candy corn sitting in front of her (although she eventually did eat the sweets). Her choice. Her body. The best part was that she was proud of that choice.


Healthy Messages


As I approach my 40th birthday, it's hard not to become introspective about getting older. I can't turn back time, but I have begun examining how I treat my body. A mid-life crisis makes you do all sorts of things! For me, I revived my yoga practice. I joined a gym and completed my first couple of 8K runs. I became a vegetarian once again and juice or blend everything in sight. Moms often forget to take care of themselves in an effort to take care of their family. I now find myself in a different situation. I'm taking good care of me, and hopefully I'm setting a good example (at least most of the time) for my kids. But I wonder: Is the message getting through?


How do you teach your kids about nutrition and healthy food choices?

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The Healthy(ist) blog is a platform to share, learn about, and debate topics related to public and social health, scientific research, health communications, and behavior change.
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