The healthy eating challenge

Tips on how to help your family maintain good habits and eat balanced meals

Cooking nutritious dishes and making sure your family is eating healthy is important, but it can also be a challenge, particularly around the holidays and other social gatherings.

These tips will help your family maintain healthy eating habits, and build balanced food plates:

• Build a balanced food plate by filling half your plate with vegetables. Kids may prefer them raw with dip, or roasted with their favorite seasoning.

• Limit your child’s free grazing. Too many snacks all day long can reduce the chance your child will come to the table hungry and ready for a healthy meal.

• Be a good gatekeeper. Keep sweets and treats out of sight or out of your home to help your child be successful in making healthier choices.

• Be a role model in making healthy choices. Children are more likely to eat healthy foods when they see their parents doing the same.

• Be prepared with healthy snacks that travel well – apples, clementines, cheese sticks and small servings of nuts with dried fruits are good options.

• Plan ahead for special occasions. There may be many treats offered at a friend’s or relative’s home, so aim to stay on track in your home.

Getting the family involved in making healthy food choices and preparing meals encourages the whole family to choose well. One approach can be to ask, “What vegetable would you like with dinner tonight?” Involving children in making decisions gives them a sense of control and encourages them to be open to trying new foods.

Some children may struggle with limited food preferences. To help broaden your child’s food preferences offer one food that your child likes while introducing new healthy foods you want your child to eat.

The goal is to avoid a food battle at the table, but you might encourage a “polite bite” or a “no thank you bite” as it may take many tries before your child accepts a new food.

The author of How to Get Your Kid to Eat: But Not Too Much, Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, CICSW, BCD, notes, “The rule to good gatekeeping is to remember that it is the parent’s job to offer the what, when and where, and the child’s job to decide if and how much they will eat.”

Holidays and birthdays are special times, and we want to fill them with family fun. Many of our traditions center on certain foods. Instead, try making new traditions like taking a family walk, making a snowman, sledding at your favorite childhood hill or even making a tasty home-cooked healthy meal.     

Tara Efstathiou, MS, RD, LD, is the lead clinical dietitian for Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Weight and Wellness Center.

More health columns from Dartmouth Hitchcock

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Health care providers help promote early literacy skills

What you need to know about CO

How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

The rules of (crossing) the road

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What you need to know about booster seats

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