3 Ways to Turn Your Kids Into Foodies

September 13, 2013
Healthy kids: girl eating watermelon

If you’re a parent, chances are you’ve engaged in your fair share of food fights: You’re serving broccoli, and your kids want fries; you offer strawberries, and they want ice cream. As stressful as it may be to get your children to eat healthfully, don’t give up the good fight. Five percent of U.S. kids and teens are now classified as severely obese, with a body mass index—a measurement of body fat based on height and weight—that’s at least 20 percent higher than the 95th percentile for their age and gender, according to an American Heart Association statement issued earlier this week. What’s more, nearly a third of American kids ages 6 to19 are now overweight or obese. As a result, health conditions once exclusive to adults like high blood pressure and diabetes are showing up in children.

Feeding your kids a balanced diet is clearly more important than ever. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy task. "I can’t think of anything more difficult for parents than trying to get their kids to eat healthfully in an environment in which junk food companies spend billions to make kids want their products, put them everywhere kids are, and use sports heroes and music stars to sell them," says Marion Nestle, PhD, top public health nutritionist and author of Eat Drink Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics.


Although you may be fighting an uphill battle, getting your kids to love and appreciate whole foods isn’t impossible. Here are Nestle’s top tips for raising healthy eaters:

1. Practice what you preach. The best way to ensure your children don't subsist on chips and chicken nuggets is to avoid eating junk yourself. The occasional trip to the ice cream shop is one thing, but if you regularly indulge in empty calories, you can’t blame your child for wanting to do the same. "Try to maintain a junk food-free home,” says Nestle, “And make a point to emphasize that this is the way 'our family' eats."

2. Know what you’re up against. No matter how much produce you pack in your fridge, your children are going to be inundated with the message that cheese puffs are more fun than carrots. "It’s not that junk food companies are evil,” says Nestle. “They’re just in business and their business is to sell snacks, and if they don’t market to kids, they can’t sell. It’s as simple as that." Nestle calls for more government regulation to curb kid-targeted ads for processed foods and urges parents to do the same. In the meantime, give yourself a break if raising healthy foodies is easier said than done.

3. Make food fun. Competing with fairytale princesses and larger-than-life superheroes can be tough, but making food lessons an enjoyable part of your children’s lives can get them on your side and help them establish lifelong healthy habits. “Talk to your kids about food, show them how to read food labels, and teach them where their food comes from,” advises Nestle. “Oh, and teach them how to cook!” (Get started with this family-friendly homemade granola bar recipe).

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