The Healthiest Diet for Kids Looks Like This
The world loves to give parents advice on how we should feed our kids. But often, dietary recommendations we hear are confusing, restrictive,or just plain wrong. Here’s a dietitian’s fad-free and evidence-based stance on the healthiest diet for kids.
You can’t throw a stone without hitting the latest nutrition advice. Have you heard? It’s about eggs. And which grains to avoid. And why you shouldn’t eat raw bok choi. Or chocolate. And how fish is a must for healthy families.
If you have young kids, deciding what (and how) to eat takes on a special significance. But weeding through a sea of information in search of the healthiest diet for kids is time-consuming and hard.
So… we did it for you. And we’re sharing our dietitian’s perspective.
The Healthiest Diet for Kids
These three guidelines form a path to the healthiest diet for kids. We didn’t invent or trademark these. We’re not selling them to you for a cost. We just distilled the best current research about diet and health into a simple, dietitian-approved action plan you can start following today.
If these guidelines sound bland or too by-the-books for you, you’re free to go as big and complex as you like with your food and lifestyle choices. Just know that complex doesn’t necessarily mean better for your kids’ health in the long run.
Now… here’s what you can do to make your kids’ diet as nourishing as possible.
- Eat the rainbow. Colorful fruits and vegetables in every hue provide a mind-blowing array of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that support your kids’ growth and development. Aim to serve at least one fruit or vegetable with every meal or snack.
- Strive for balance. Bodies feel and function at their best when they get nourishment from all the major food groups. In the absence of allergies or other special medical circumstances, kids should regularly have the opportunity to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein foods (from meat and/or plants.) Try to include at least three food groups with every meal.
- Cook at home. Daily cooking may be a struggle for you. But the benefits of home cooked meals are too great to ignore. Those who eat more than five home-cooked meals a week consume more fruits and veggies, more Vitamin C, and are more likely to have a healthy BMI compared to those who eat fewer than three home-cooked meals weekly. The best part is, these benefits add up even when families aren’t specifically trying to “cook healthy.” Serve as many home-cooked meals as you can each week (leftovers count!)
A Healthy Attitude Matters, Too
When you’re in the middle of dinner and your kids are making that face, poking a broccoli floret around their plate in little circles, it’s easy to think that the absolute most desired outcome would be if they would just EAT THE VEGGIES.
If only they’d eat the veggies, you think, then–boom!– they’d have fabulous nutrition in their bodies. And you’d win some kind of invisible “healthy family” badge you could carry around quietly, occasionally offering your friends gentle wisdom about how to get their kids to eat their veggies.
This is, of course, a fantasy. But also, getting your kids to eat their veggies is actually not even the most important end goal when raising healthy kids.
The REAL most important goal is for our kids to become adventurous eaters. Curious, accepting, perceptive eaters. You’re thinking: Wait, what? She didn’t even MENTION veggies And that’s true.
Food is more than a collection of nutrients. Food is social, emotional, and intricately linked to our kids’ personalities and preferences. That means the more we can foster a healthy attitude about eating at home, the better our kids will learn to choose foods that nourish them across their lifespan (and yes, that includes veggies!)
So what does fostering a healthy food attitude look like? It looks like…
- Modeling a varied diet in front of your kids (let them see you eat good food.)
- Letting kids choose how much food to eat.
- Letting kids decide whether or not to eat something.
- Enjoying “treat foods” without guilt or shame.
It’s easy to write about these actions, and harder to take them. It’s OK if you struggle with enacting these attitudes at home. Keep practicing!
The Bottom Line
The healthiest diet for kids isn’t restrictive or complicated. Let’s focus less on foods we’re told to eliminate, and more on adding colorful fruits and veggies in the context of balanced home-cooked meals.
Make a point of fostering healthy attitudes about food, like modeling a varied diet, and enjoying dessert without guilt.
The rest will fall into place.
Got Picky Eaters? Read This Next
If you’re finishing this article thinking, “OK, this is great and all but my kids won’t eat like that…” you’re not alone! Almost every family encounters picky eating that can last for months or years. The good news is, there IS an end in sight. Visit a few of our resources for help with gently guiding your kids through their pickiest phase:
21 Days of Things to Do with a Picky Eater
My Top Tip for Getting a Picky Eater to Eat
9 Vegetables Kids Like that Might Surprise You
I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie
[…] in Dinner, myplate / no comments Yum!! This delicious dinner includes, fruit salad, sauteed peppers, steak, and rice. (recipes here) […]
[…] protein, etc. Each diet camp has research to support their side and … … Read more: Fruit Salad and The Healthiest Diet for Kids – Healthy Meals and … ← Walmart Community » Blog Archive » Walmart Neighborhood Markets Self's 2012 […]
Question…. I find it hard to afford/find decent organic veggies & fruits, and my son loves them. I often just give him what I get at the grocery store. I wash them with a fruit and veggie wash.. but I know it doesn’t do much…. what are your thoughts on organic vs. not? I stress about it sometimes… but I kinda feel it’s better to eat it no-organic, then not at all….
Eating fruits and veggies is so important, even if you can’t afford organic.
Focusing on buying organic for only the most contaminated fruits and veggies by using the dirty dozen list. And these videos are great info on the organic vs conventional issue. http://nutritionfacts.org/video/are-the-benefits-of-organic-food-underrated-or-overrated/ and http://nutritionfacts.org/video/are-organic-foods-healthier/
That salad looks absolutely delicious. I love that it was devoured by teenagers. If you give them healthy food, they’ll eat it!
Oh, yum. That looks amazing! We always do the same fruit salad around here, and while it is yummy, it can get tedious after a while. I’m going to have to try this one.
I just finished reading Super Immunity! so interesting! We are working on putting way more beans, seeds etc. into our diet! I was a bit disappointed on his thoughts on probiotics! In my family they seem to help so much with tummy trouble prevention and speedy recoveries!
Thanks for sharing Kim! I’m pro-probiotics too! From what I remember, didn’t he recommend them, only after antibiotics and such. I know he sells them, so he can’t be against them. Lol.
Either way- I’m re-motivated to add more beans, seeds and veggies too!
Oh Melissa! I struggle greatly with this one! Sometimes I feel really strongly about it, and other times, I’m just desperately trying to get as many fruits and veggies as we can afford. However, I will say, I think organic meat is more important to me than organic produce. It seems like there are so many more chemicals, hormones, and tainted feed they can give animals that we consume, and that scares me. For produce, I generally stick with the rule that strawberries and spinach have the most pesticides, so I try to get those organic. Most of the corn on the market has been genetically modified, so it’s also good to go organic there. Of course, we grow as much as we can. I’m definitely not perfect. Someday, I’ll be more conscientious about it, hopefully before my kids are too grown up!
[…] Monday – Baked Potato Bar, fruit salad […]
[…] Fruit Salad […]
Eating right and healthy diet food meals will surely benefits for everybody duet o the sound mind and body it will give. Another benefit from eating balanced diet food meals is it causes someone to look attractive and healthy.
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Loosing weigh doesn’t mean that you have give up some foods. All you have to is eat in a moderated way.
Also, don’t forget to drink coffee in the morning.
For those on a budget you can do organic.
1. Buy less meat — we use mostly beans, nuts, seeds, and eggs as protein. We just do 3 days max of meat per week (usually wild caught fish and organic chicken).
2. Prioritize what you buy organic. All meat and dairy should be organic — but not necessarily all fruit and veggies. Just buy the dirty dozen organic (with corn, squash, potatoes, and papaya too as they are top GMO’s)
3. Use leftovers. Either freeze or repurpose them in some way like for lunches the next day. I never buy anything for lunches. I always use leftovers.
4. Stay away from prepackaged food. Especially *organic* prepackaged food. Those things will cost you a fortune. Cheese crackers, graham crackers, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, burritos, pizza, etc can all be homemade. After doing recipes for a few times you get quicker at it and it’s easier. You can make these and freeze for later to save time later and be just as convenient as freezer meals.
Just those doing those things will really help you save money.
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I think the healthiest diet for kids is GAPS and after 2 years going after GAPS guidelines. Period.
Did you put any juice in the fruit salad to keep it fresh until you served it?
Hi Fiona! I’m honestly not sure if we did that on this particular fruit salad, but you certainly can! Lemon and orange work well, and add a nice flavor, too.
Good work I really like this awesome.
you share the guidelines for kids healthy diets its too good for kids and especially her mother’s to care his baby giving this diet food