5 Eating Habits For Children To Maintain A Healthy Weight

19 Nov 2019

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All parents know that every child needs balanced nutrition from a variety of foods. Unfortunately, getting children to eat (and keep eating) healthy can be quite a challenge. Studies show [1] that childhood eating habits persist into adulthood, greatly increasing the risk of chronic and lifestyle diseases. Parents have long struggled to inculcate healthy habits in their children, from chewing their food properly to avoiding distractions, and so on. However, previous generations didn’t have to contend with the onslaught of processed foods and digital technology that parents today must also deal with. Hence, here are five childhood lessons on eating that can promote better health and body-weight for life.

1. Focus On Health Not Weight

You need to first change your own approach to healthy eating. Healthy eating isn’t just about weight loss or maintaining the perfect figure; it’s about achieving better health. When discussing food and diet choices with your kids, avoid talking about weight and obesity as this can be damaging to their self-esteem and body image later in life. Research [2] found that teens whose parents frequently discussed bodyweight were more susceptible to eating disorders and unhealthy weight-control behaviours. Instead of recommending exercise and healthy eating to lose weight, focus on outcomes with positive connotations, such as improved athletic ability, faster growth and development, or improved learning ability.

2. Widen Kids’ Healthy Food Palette

All parents struggle to get their children to accept new and healthy foods. Most try unsuccessfully or even force their kids to eat these foods, but give up after just one or two attempts. Those are two mistakes you shouldn’t be making. Studies [3] demonstrate that children’s food preferences are shaped by repeated exposure and without the use of coercion. To widen your child’s acceptance of a range of healthy fruits, veggies, nuts, and other foods, you need to make them available more frequently, encouraging kids to taste them without using force.

3. Eat As A Family

You know that healthy eating requires you to be a good role model and this best way to do this is by making meals a communal or family activity. Eat together as far as is possible and get the children involved in food shopping or cooking. This can be used to expose them to fruits and vegetables in a more positive setting. Having meals together as a family is perhaps the most important habit to cultivate, as we know from research [4] that children who grew up in such an environment tend to follow healthier diets even as adults.

4. Be Wary Of Food Rewards

It’s a fairly common practice to reward or bribe children with sweet treats and other guilty pleasures, but this is one of the worst things that you can do. It fosters an unhealthy relationship with food, with some being seen as more ‘desirable’ and others less so. A report [5] suggests that using unhealthy snacks as a reward was found to increase preference for those foods, making them crave unhealthy foods even more. It can also make kids dislike healthy fruits and vegetables when junk food and sweet treats are offered as a reward for consuming those healthy foods.

5. Limit Exposure To Distractions

Stimulus control is another healthy habit-forming technique that is backed by research [6]. It requires you to reduce your child’s exposure to distractions that can cultivate unhealthy behaviours. This would include limiting TV time and avoiding any screen time during meals, as well as clearing the house of any ‘forbidden’ foods. While watching TV during meals works as a distraction, it promotes overeating and is linked to other unhealthy behaviours later in life. The practice of keeping restricted or unhealthy foods out of reach has also been shown to adversely affect self-control [7], with children more likely to binge eat when they have access to such foods.

While these practices have proven benefits in promoting healthy childhood eating habits, these are just some of the most effective ones. You can also experiment with other techniques to find ones that work best for your parenting style, but make sure to always lead by example.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1614729/

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23797808

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14702019

  4. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2715616

  5. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1129474?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4801195/

  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2658056

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