How To Get a Preschooler to Eat Healthy Foods

Parenting, Families, Food and Fitness October 07, 2013 Print Friendly and PDF

Do you have a preschooler who would prefer to eat junk food over healthy food?  How do you change their behaviors and help them develop healthy eating habits?

Children who eat nutritious foods are likely to be healthier, have a lower risk of obesity, and be better prepared to learn in school.  However, in today's fast-food society, childhood obesity is on the rise, and too many children are not getting adequate nutrition.

So how do you raise your preschoolers to appreciate and enjoy healthy foods?  Below, are some ideas to get your family eating healthier and get your younger children excited about it as well.

Parents Lead By Example

Teaching your children to eat healthy foods starts with you.  Children eat more fruits and vegetables, when they see their parents eat fruits and vegetables.  Also, your feeding "style" can encourage healthy eating behaviors.

Healthy Snacks

Provide nutritious food not just at meal time. Have healthy snacks for your child to munch on in-between meals, like pre-cut and ready to eat fruits, vegies, and cheese for quick and easy access.

Include Your Child in Meal Planning and Preparation

Use young children’s natural curiosity and helpfulness to include them in planning and preparing a meal.  Have small jobs they can assist you with. This will build your children’s self-confidence and, better yet, encourage them to eat the foods they help fix.  Examples of tasks they can help with include (go here for more suggestions):                                                               

  • Picking out the foods for the meal.

For example: you could ask, “What vegetables should we serve tonight, peas or green beans?”

  • Preparing the food.

Let them wash off the fruits or vegetables.  Allow them to help you stir what you’re making in the mixing bowl.

  • Planning to serve the meal. 

Ask for their help in setting the table, folding the napkins, getting the condiments on the table, and so forth.                                                               


Eat dinner as a family

For younger children, eating dinner as a family provides an important routine. It offers them a sense of security and a feeling of belonging in the family.  Benefits of eating meals as a family include:


  • Family bonds are strengthened.
  • Children are better adjusted.
  • Meals are higher in nutrition.
  • Families are less likely to over eat.
  • You can model important behaviors such as healthy eating, good social skills, and appropriate table manners.

You help set the tone for the family meal, so go in with excitement and enthusiasm. Be eager to hear how everyone’s day went. Learning healthy eating habits is one of the possible benefits for children whose families share meals together. When you lead by example and make healthy eating choices more available, your children are more likely to follow along.     

For more information about eating dinner as a family:

Make meals a family affair

Family nutrition: The truth about family meals

For more information about healthy foods and serving sizes go to:

What are healthy portions for preschoolers?

Healthy eating plate and pyramid (for adults)

Author: Lydia Lorang, Dept of Human Development and Family Studies, Auburn University


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