Parents and children can each have a role in making healthy family meal choices. Parents decide which foods to buy, which snacks to make available, and when and how these foods are prepared. Children decide “how much” and “if” to eat at all.
Involve children in meal planning and preparation. Most children will enjoy deciding what to make for dinner. Talk to them about making choices and planning a balanced meal. Some might even want to help shop for ingredients and prepare the meal.
At the store, teach children to check out food labels to begin understanding what to look for. In the kitchen, select age-appropriate tasks so your child can play a part without getting injured or feeling overwhelmed. And at the end of the meal, don’t forget to praise the chef.
School lunches can be another learning lesson for children. If you can get them thinking about what they eat for lunch, you might be able to help them make positive changes. Brainstorm about what kinds of foods they’d like for lunch or go to the grocery store to shop together for healthy, packable foods.
There’s another important reason why children should be involved: It can help prepare them to make good decisions on their own about the foods they want to eat. That’s not to say that your child will suddenly want a salad instead of french fries, but the mealtime habits you help create now can lead to a lifetime of healthier choices.
Picky eating is typical for many preschoolers. It’s simply another step in the process of growing up and becoming independent. As long as your preschooler is healthy, growing normally, and has plenty of energy, he or she is most likely getting the nutrients he or she needs.
Many children will show one or more of the following behaviors during the preschool years. In most cases, these will go away with time.
Your child’s picky eating is temporary. If you don’t make it a big deal, it will usually end before school age. Try the following tips to help you deal with your child’s picky eating behavior in a positive way.
Your child may not want to try new foods. It is normal for children to reject foods they have never tried before. Here are some tips to get your child to try new foods:
Are you always on the lookout for ways to eat healthier? One relatively easy way is to modify your recipes and food preparation methods. Many recipes call for more fat, sugar and salt than what are needed for good flavor and quality. And depending on the recipe, you may be able to add or replace ingredients to boost fiber content.
The first step to healthier eating is to identify your dietary goal. To cut calories, fat, sugar or sodium (or to increase fiber) identify the ingredients that supply these components. Keep in mind that not all recipes need modification. Take into consideration how often the food is eaten and how much of the food is eaten. For example, it is more important to reduce the fat in a main dish served weekly rather than reduce the fat in a birthday cake enjoyed once per year.
The second step is to change the ingredients to achieve your dietary goal. Ingredients can be eliminated completely, reduced in amount or replaced with a more nutritious ingredient.
Click here to download a print-friendly ingredient substitution list.
Don’t forget to eat breakfast daily. Research has shown that children who eat breakfast have better overall nutrition, energy, and brain function; get sick less often; and have better general health.
Make time for a healthy breakfast on school days with these easy tips that take less than 10 minutes to prepare and eat:
Click here to download print-friendly daily breakfast tips.
Make your snacks healthy. Snacking provides energy between meals and essential nutrients to help children meet their growing needs. Click here to view MyPlate snack tips for parents or hacks for your snacks.
We recommend following the guidelines set forth by USDA’s MyPlate. MyPlate illustrates the five food groups that are the building blocks for a healthy diet. Before you eat, think about what goes on your plate or in your cup or bowl. For additional healthy eating tips, visit our Healthy You page.
Please note that the amount of fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy, grains and oils you need depends on your age, gender and level of physical activity.
Click here to download MyPlate’s 6 Tips to a Great Plate
To learn more about building a healthy plate, select a food group below.
Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the Fruit Group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up or pureed. It is recommended that you get 1-2 cups of fruit a day. Click here for specific daily recommendations based off of your age and sex. In general, 1 cup of fruit or 100% fruit juice, or 1/2 cup of dried fruit can be considered 1 cup from the fruit group.
Any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice counts as a member of the Vegetable Group. Vegetables may be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated; and may be whole, cut-up, or mashed. It is recommended that you get 1-3 cups of vegetables a day. Click here for specific daily recommendations based off of your age and sex. In general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens can be considered 1 cup from the vegetable group.
Click here for the vegetables food gallery.
Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products.
It is recommended that you get 3-8 oz. of grains per day. Click here for specific daily recommendations based off of your age and sex.
In general, 1 slice of bread; 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal; or 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta or cereal = 1 oz. of grains.
All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the Protein Foods Group. Beans and peas are also part of the Vegetable Group.
It is recommended that you get 6 cooked ounces of protein a day. Select a variety of protein foods to improve nutrient intake and health benefits, including at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood per week. Click here for specific daily recommendations based off of your age and sex.
In general, 1/4 cup of cooked beans; 1/4 cup of tofu or 1 egg = 1 oz. of lean meat.
All fluid milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Most Dairy Group choices should be fat-free or low-fat. Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group. Foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not.
It is recommended that you get 2-3 cups of milk per day.
In general, 1 cup of milk or yogurt; 1/4 cup shredded cheese; 2 oz. of processed cheese; or 2 cups of cottage cheese = 1 cup of dairy.
Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like the vegetable oils used in cooking. Oils come from many different plants and from fish. Oils are NOT a food group, but they provide essential nutrients. Therefore, oils are included in USDA food patterns.
It is recommended that you get 3-7 teaspoons of oil per day. Click here for specific daily recommendations based off of your age and sex.
Keep in mind that some Americans consume enough oil in the foods they eat, such as nuts, fish, cooking oil and salad dressings. Others could easily consume the recommended allowance by substituting oils for some of the solid fats they eat. Solid fats include: shortening, stick margarine, butter, cream, or beef, pork and chicken fat.