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By Anne Hogan

Mother and daughter cooking together.

Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

Many parents and caregivers understand the importance of nutrition for young children. However, encouraging children to make healthy choices can be very challenging.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, children develop food preferences and establish eating habits during the first years of life. This makes early childhood the ideal time to introduce various fruits, vegetables, proteins, whole grains, and dairy; while limiting saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium (2020).

Establishing Healthy Habits:

How can you teach your child to choose healthy foods? According to Cleveland Clinic (2022), some strategies include:

    • Inviting children into the kitchen: Letting children be involved in planning and meal preparation can introduce them to the process of choosing and eating healthy foods.
    • Eating together at scheduled times: Setting a schedule for children helps prevent day-long grazing and aids in portion control. Eating as a family is also good for their social and emotional health. Additionally, children often learn best by seeing their caregivers model healthy behaviors.
    • Offering variety: At each meal, let children choose from healthy options. Even the pickiest of eaters can learn to like new foods – though they may need to be offered many times before the child accepts them.
    • Teach children to listen to their bodies: Teach children to savor and enjoy their food. This can help them be mindful about what – and how much – they are eating. Making them “clean their plate” or eat until everything is gone can teach them to eat even when they are not hungry. Instead, let them express when they are hungry or full.

Nutrition Programs and Resources:

If you or someone you know are concerned about meeting your child’s nutritional needs, you may qualify for one of the following assistance programs:

    • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): supplies nutrition resources and healthcare referrals to low-income pregnant or post-partum women, infants, and children up to age 5 (WIC, n.d.). Some states also have a Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) associated with WIC that provides coupons for approved farmer’s markets (FMNP, n.d.).
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): provides benefits to low-income families for buying healthy food (SNAP, n.d.).

You can also contact your local health department, ministerial associations, and community centers for more resources.


Early childhood can be the best time to let children discover healthy options they like. Young children can also benefit from meal planning and learning to be mindful of their food choices. Additionally, for families and caregivers who have questions or concerns about meeting their child’s needs, there are resources available that can help.


Cleveland Clinic (2022). How To Teach Kids Healthy Eating Habits. Pediatrics. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from

Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP). (n.d.). USDA: Food and Nutrition Service. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). USDA: Food and Nutrition Service. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). USDA: Food and Nutrition Service. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Ed. Retrieved from


Anne Hogan is a Graduate Student in Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign