How to Help Your Children Learn Healthy Eating Habits

We all want our kids to eat a healthy, varied diet without standing over them, prodding them every 5 minutes nagging them to eat vegetables.

We need to teach them healthy eating habits so that they learn to enjoy healthy foods and carry on healthy habits into adult hood (when we won't be there to stand over them and prod them!)

How to Help Your Kids Learn Healthy Eating Habits Video

Feeding Toddler Cheat Sheet (mentioned in video)

You can sign up here for the Cheat Sheet.

Little boy holding a healthy dinner consisting of crepes, tomatoes, lettuce and beans. #toddler #fussyeater #fussytoddler #toddlerwonteat #pickyeater #parenting #positiveparenting  #healthykids #preschooler #parenting #parentingtoddler

What is Healthy Eating?

The different aspects of healthy eating can be divided up into different areas.

  1. What we eat.
  2. Portion Sizes.
  3. Proportions.
  4. How we eat.

Firstly, we need to think about what you eat. That includes the portion sizes and the proportions.

Related: How to Get Your Toddler To Eat More Vegetables

What do I Mean by Proportions?

Do we eat all carbohydrates or do we eat a bit of carbohydrate, a bit of protein, and lots of fruit and vegetables?

Do we eat lots of treats or a little bit of treats?

In my mind, nothing is forbidden in moderation. Moderation is the key. This is the proportion – the amount compared to other things that we eat. This is about looking at your entire diet rather than one thing or another thing.

What do I Mean by “How We Eat”?

How we eat is eating when we are hungry and stopping when we are no longer hungry. Not eating until we’re bursting.

Also the absence of emotional eating is important. Eating because we’re hungry, not because we’re happy or sad or as a reward.

Let’s go look at all of these things individually.

How Do We get our Children to Eat a Healthy Diet?

Kids do not care about "healthy". Most kids like sweets and treats. They like all those things that are not so healthy. (Actually this is the same as many adults.)

Kids love foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. (Crisps, fries, pizza, burger, candy, cake....all those junks foods that are fine in moderation but not as the basis of our diet.)

As parents it's our responsibility to provide them with healthy foods.

Lots of fruits and vegetables and less package foods.

Related: How Much Is Your Toddler Actually Eating?

Treat Food Is Fine in Moderation

Think about treats as treats.

We need to teach our kids to set internal limits. (This doesn't happen over night.)

For example, when your child goes to a birthday party and they present lots and lots of sweets – this happens where we live in Spain.

Typically, a birthday party will be chocolate sandwiches made out of what I call "plastic bread", (the kind of baked bread but probably has zero nutrients).

They have lots of candy and lots of cake.

When my children go, they will just gorge themselves and they will feel sick afterwards.

This is clearly not healthy eating habits and it is my job to teach them internal limits.

That internal limit can be something that we say, for example, “Okay, I’m going to have one slice of cake and I’m going to have five candies or five sweets.”

We need to set that limit and if we set that limit routinely during the week when we talk about treats, they will internalize that.

For example, in our household we have something like a snack which is a treat snack – a cookie or piece of cake once a day.

At birthday parties or holidays, it might be more than that, but generally we don’t go over than that.

We might have an extra special treat like some candy once a week.

Related: How to Get Kids to Prefer Real Meals to Snacks

Try a Snack Draw (with Limits)

There are different ways of teaching your children how to control this themselves. I know lots of people like to have a snack draw.

They allow their children to help help themselves but they set the limit.

“You can have one candy, once a week and you can have that whenever you want.”

The child then learns “Okay, well if I eat it on Monday morning for breakfast, that’s it, I don’t have anything else until the following Monday morning (or whenever that limit sets).”

I think setting limits and allowing children to understand those limits is helpful.

When Kids Over Indulge

When things do go wrong, so when my children go and eat far too many candies, cookies, and cakes, I talk to them about it and say: “Okay, so you’re feeling sick and you’ve got a tummy ache because you’ve eaten all this sugar and you haven’t eaten anything nutritious. You haven’t eaten anything wholesome.”

When they go to the next party, we have a think about that beforehand and say:

“Remember what happened last time? What do you want to do about it this time? Would you like to have something healthy before you go? Think about how much you are going to eat.”

They aren’t going to get it right each time. They will go over that limit, but then we just have to keep resetting and keep thinking.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Toddler Nutrition

Girl happily eating an apple #toddler #fussyeater #fussytoddler #toddlerwonteat #pickyeater #parenting #positiveparenting  #healthykids #preschooler #parenting #parentingtoddler

A Healthy Diet for Kids

Firstly, get them used to eating lots of fruits and vegetables. I have lots of videos and resources about that and we are not going to talk about that now. But think about these limits for treats.

Related: What is a Healthy Diet for Kids?

Be Aware of Portion Sizes

Portion sizes are really important, particularly in this world where we are seeing lots of children overeating.

Typically, what we see is children or adults overeating foods that are relatively easy to overeat.

Even what we would call nutritious, healthy food like spaghetti bolognaise.

We are more likely to have bigger portions of that than platefuls of vegetables because it’s nice to eat, fun to eat, and we enjoy it.

I think we need to be mindful of portion sizes so we need to know what is an appropriate portion size for ourselves and our children.

Related: Check out the Infant Toddler Forum Portion Sizes for Toddlers.

Have a Small Portion and Come Back for More

Present a smaller portion first, so that you’re thinking about what you’re eating and then afterwards you can think whether you want some more or if you’ve had enough.

Sometimes you might need to wait a little bit of time to really let your mind know that your tummy is full.

What About When My Child Wants More and I Think They're Full?

If they really have had a portion that  you think is a big enough portion, if they want more they can eat more of the fruit and vegetable sections of the meal rather than having more other things.

Only One Portion of Dessert

For dessert, I would say one slice of dessert; one portion of dessert.

This is really going back to treats again, but it’s about putting limits on those treats and saying:

“We’re not going to restrict what you eat, you can eat fruit and vegetables – lots and lots of those. If you’re hungry, that’s what we eat. But we don’t really eat cakes and candy to fill up. We eat them because they taste nice and because we enjoy them and that’s fun.”

Healthy Eating isn't Connected to Emotions

The third thing we talked about was this idea of emotional eating. How do we teach our children not to partake in emotional eating?

The number one thing that I can say is, firstly, don’t pressure your children to eat.

By pressuring your children to eat, you are stopping them from being in control.

What we want is our children to think: “I’m hungry, I’m going to eat.”

There shouldn’t really be any emotion around that. By pressuring children to eat, we are overriding this and teaching them to ignore those hunger signals.

Related: Why I Don't Pressure My Kids to Eat.

Don't Reward Food with Behaviour

Another big thing that we can do is to not reward emotional behaviour with food substances.

For example, if you have a young child and they’re struggling to get in their car seat and you’re say: “You can have a cookie if you get in the car seat.”

What you’re actually doing when you do that is you are saying: “If you behave nicely, I will give you a cookie.”

That is setting up an emotional connection between how we behave and eating.

It is teaching children that food is about emotions and that we use food to overcome bad emotions or to celebrate good emotions.

That is not what we want to be teaching our children.

If you want to reward your children for good behavior, do it with a connection to your child. Do it with a smile, a cuddle, something else that isn’t food. I would say something like good positive attention. Give them the attention that they are asking for.

Little boy eating a healthy dinner #toddler #fussyeater #fussytoddler #toddlerwonteat #pickyeater #parenting #positiveparenting  #healthykids #preschooler #parenting #parentingtoddler

Instilling Healthy Eating Habits in Kids in a Nutshell

Teaching our kids healthy eating habits happens over time.

The 4 main areas to think about are:

  1. What we eat.
  2. Portion Sizes
  3. Proportions
  4. How we eat.

Main Ways to Help Our Kids Learn Healthy Eating Habits

  • Get them used to eating fruits and vegetables.
  • Think about treats and how to teach limits for treats.
  • Avoid emotional eating by not rewarding our children with food substances.

Teaching your kids healthy eating habits is like teaching them to ride a bike. They won't get it straight away (and they won't even think about "healthy").

You just have to keep at it and one day you'll realise that your kids are enjoying healthy eating!

Healthy Eating Challenge

If you'd like to challenge yourself and learn how to take small steps towards changing your habits, sign up for the Healthy Eating Challenge.


Learn how to feed your toddler a healthy diet in a stress free way...without pressuring or nagging!

Yes Please!

50% Complete

Let's turn healthy eating into a habit!