Tips for Parents

Healthy eating habits start at home. Here are ways for parents to succeed at healthy and happy meal times:

  • Parents and caregivers are often surprised at how little a young child needs to eat. Remember, a child’s portion is only about ¼ to ½ the size of an adult plate and should be cut up well. Too much food on a plate may cause a child to not want to eat.
  • Just like adults, children will be more hungry on some days than others. Its always the parent’s job to offer the child a healthy meal at the table during meal times. The child decides how much they want to eat. It is never good to force a child to eat. This may cause them to have negative feelings about eating. And research shows that children who are pressured to eat a food often eat less of it. Try to not make a big deal out of eating. The dinner table should be a happy place for children and family.
  • It’s natural for a child especially at younger ages to want to investigate their food. They may touch, smell and taste it. It is very normal for children to be a little messy, they are learning to eat. If they start to get really messy or unruly, they may be done eating and this is time to leave the table. Being patient and aware of this can help make a happy meal time for you and the child.
  • Keep offering new foods to a child even if they don’t like it at first. They may need to see it on their plate a few times before even trying to taste it.  It may take 10-15 times of tasting a new food before a child develops a taste for it. And always offer the child a variety of healthy foods on their plate. And finally, be patient. As long as there is a variety of healthy foods on the plate, the child will get what they need.
  • Always begin feeding vegetables to infants before starting fruits. Starting something sweet first may leave the child wanting more sweet foods.
  • Be a good role model. Children like to eat with others and be social. They will copy you and other children as well. Sit down with your children as much as you can and eat the same healthy foods you serve them.
  • Serve raw veggies and cut fruit as snacks. Limit snacks to 2 a day to ensure that the child will eat their other meals.
  • For children 5 and under, limit juice to 4 ounces a day. Also make sure that your child is drinking 100% juice. Many juices contain added sugar. Read the label. Add water to dilute if they child wants more than 4 ounces. It's not good to allow children to carry around cups during the day unless it is filled with water. Milk can go bad and beverages with sugar can lead to tooth decay.
  • Offer children (after the age of 1 year) a regular cup at meal times so that they can learn to use it. It may be messy at first, but they will learn to use it and not have an attachment to a bottle or sippy cup. Sippy cups are meant to be an early transition from bottle to regular cup and should not be used for extended periods of time. Extended use of sippy cups has been known to cause tooth decay and speech problems. The sippy cup allows beverages containing sugar to stay in the mouth longer which leads to dental caries. This may be why cavities have increased by 15 percent from 1994 to 2002 in children 2-5 years old according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Remember that you cannot always control what your child is going to eat. They will go to daycare, sitters, or family will watch them. They are going to eat all kinds of things that you wouldn’t normally approve of. Its good to stand up for your child so that they get healthy meals but try to understand that others may not have the education or resources that you do. Work with them, ask questions, bring food for your child. And do your best to provide the child with the healthy food at home most of the time. Accept that sometimes, they will not eat healthy. As long as a majority of what they are eating is healthy food at home, then you are doing your job as a parent.
  • Try rewarding your child with other things than food.   Instead of going out for an ice cream, go to the park to play! Or go to see a movie and bring your own fun snacks in pre-made bags. Find other fun activities to do as a reward. Of course, ice cream is fun sometimes! These are just examples to get the idea to you that there are other fun things and options to do as rewards instead of primarily using food.
  • Allow your children to pick out new fruit and veggies to try. Getting your kids involved in shopping and cooking can help them be more excited about trying new foods. Take them to your local produce stand and allow them to pick fruits and vegetables. Get them involved in the cooking process. Make sure to allow them to do safe things for their age. Even if its stirring a mix or adding something in. Have fun with your food!


WIC( Women, Infants and Children) nutrition education brochures from Louisiana department of health and hospitals

Women and Childrens Health Network-

Ellyn Satter- Great information for parents-

American Dental Association- Article on how sugar causes tooth decay:


  1. I've been reading how fruit juice is not really that good for you. It causes your blood sugar to spike which could contribute to developing diabetes. Better to drink water and eat the whole fruit.

    1. I definitely agree with you that this could happen which is why I always say that children shouldn't have more than 4 ounces of juice a day. It contains a lot of sugar. Children enjoy drinking things other than water and milk which is why juice can be an acceptable alternative to other beverages out there with artificial flavors and added sugars such as HFCS (sports drinks and soft drinks). I do try to get the point across that carrying around a sippy cup filled with juice or more than 4 ounces per day can be bad for teeth, etc. Water is a better option here. And yes, I always recommend whole fruit, they are great snacks for little ones!! Thanks for the comment!!