7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Eaters

by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD

Everyone’s got something to say about raising healthy eaters — and it usually comes down to food.  But research shows that a variety of factors, not just what you feed, are needed to raise healthy children.

These 7 secrets will help broaden your view of feeding your family, increasing your chances of success.

1. Keep a “Long term” view: While every parent has the short term goals of feeding their kids, it’s best to always keep your eye on the long-term goal

  • Watch feeding practices that have negative consequences in the long run — rewarding/bribing/getting kids to take X amount of bites.
  • Raise kids who want to eat healthy, instead of feeling obligated to eat healthy.
  • No tricks, but consistency and keeping meals pleasant — even when it’s hard.

2. Aim for balance, not diet perfection: The goal is to teach kids how to balance all foods in their diet, not just the healthy ones

  • Nourishing foods (Low fat dairy, lean meats, fruits and veggies, whole grains, healthy fats)           In Between foods (juice, refined grains, higher fat meats)            Fun Foods (sweet/fried foods).
  • Give children choices, but not too many.
  • Research shows exposure is the most important factor in getting children to eat a variety of food.

3. Use an authoritative feeding style: Research shows children eat better when parents aren’t too strict or lax — striking that middle ground

  • Most closely mirrored with the Division of Responsibility of Feeding — parents decide the “what,” “when” and “where” of feeding and kids decide the “whether” and “how much” of eating.
  • Use meal structure as your secret weapon!
  • Be neutral about sweets — limit without making children feel deprived

4. Understand your child’s development stage: Gaining knowledge about WHY your child acts the way he or she does is empowering

  • 2-6 years of age: picky eating is a normal part of development — growth slows and mental awareness increases
  • 6-12 years of age: kids expand their palates, gain skills and self esteem and approach a major growth spurt.
  • 13-18 years of age: Need to fit in socially — influenced by what other friends are eating

5. Teach kids how to eat the right amount of food for their bodies:  Children are born with the natural ability to regulate food intake — preserve this!

  • When a child is done, ask them if they are full.  Research shows 85% of parents try to get kids to eat more at meal time.
  • Teach size acceptance!
  • Watch associations that can develop with eating — eat at the table, with structure and not when bored, in front of the TV or in the car (most of the time)

6.  Maintain family meals: The family table is where connections are made and children learn how to eat

  • Research shows kids who have regular family dinners eat better, have healthier weights, do better in school and are less likely to have behavior problems or issues with substance abuse
  • Make the commitment.
  • Plan meals a week in advance — keep it simple!

7. Teach kids how to cook: Send a child out into the world who knows how to prepare meals

  • Bring toddlers/preschoolers in the kitchen early but don’t force it
  • Make helping with meals part of school-age children’s routine
  • Teenagers can prepare at least one dinner/lunch per week

Raise Healthy Eaters Resources — www.RaiseHealthyEaters.com:

  • Infant/Toddler Feeding Guides
  • Series: Meal Planning/Picky Eating/Eating Disorder Prevention/Kids’ Nutrition
  • Expert Interviews — DHA, probiotics and obesity prevention



  • No Whine with Dinner, Meal Makeover Moms
  • Secrets to Feeding A Healthy Family, Ellyn Satter
  • SOS! Six O’clock Scramble to the Rescue, Aviva Goldfarb

About the author

The Parent Connection is a non-profit parenting support group sponsored by Scripps Health. Since 1980, The Parent Connection has been bringing San Diego families together to provide support, share experiences and information, enjoy social activities and build lasting relationships. Parent Connection annual special events are a great way to socialize with other members. And our membership benefits include group discounts to California theme parks and attractions, which more than cover the cost of annual membership. Join now!

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