Expert Tips for Raising Healthy Eaters

Recently, I attended a Live Well 2013 conference, hosted by the Beef Checkoff. Besides learning lots of ways to cook healthfully with beef, I also learned some excellent tips about feeding the family that really spoke to me and to the mission of the E.A.T. blog. Afterall, E.A.T. stands for Everyone Around the Table. Here are just some of the tips from two of the speakers.

From Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, PhD, RD, professor, Rutgers University and Dayle Hayes, MS, RD (

The Importance of Breakfast:Silverware in Need of Polishing

Byrd-Bredbenner explained that the reason breakfast is so important is because it sets the stage for kids getting more nutrients throughout the day, it helps them focus better in school (which means doing better in school) and helps them to maintain healthier weights. Skipping breakfast leads to eating too much of the wrong foods later on in the day.

Hayes added an interesting point: It’s important that EVERY child have the opportunity to eat breakfast. Because, even if your child eats breakfast and is therefore able to focus in school, the kids who didn’t eat will be distracting your child.

Family Mealtime:

Eat together as a family as often as possible. Family meals lead to:

  • Better family communication
  • Stronger family bonds
  • Happier kids with fewer depression symptoms
  • Teens who are less likely to use alcohol, drugs or smoke
  • Eating healthier meals
  • Maintaining healthier weights

Don’t let the TV join you at mealtime. Turn it off. It’s a distraction to all of the positives of eating together. And when you are distracted, you are more likely to eat mindlessly and too much.

Try to keep family meal time calm. This is not the time to bring up big issues or get into fights. Kids will associate family time and healthy eating choices with meal time. So make the association positive.

There was a rule in Dayle Hayes’ home that the kids had to be home for dinner but they could bring a friend. The friend’s parents would later tell her their child ate spinach for the first time at her house. Great idea.

Fussy Eaters:

  • Offer only healthy foods
  • Be patient with new foods – it takes offering a food at least 15 times, on average, before a child will even try it. Keep trying.
  • Let kids decide how much to eat – they have an inborn ability to regulate how much they need to eat. Help them listen to their bodies.
  • Skip bribes! If you dangle dessert as a reward for eating a vegetable, then the vegetable becomes the hurdle to the reward, which you don’t want it to be.
  • Instead, reward with praise or a special activity, but NOT food. Keep food in the context it needs to be in.
  • Keep your cool! (Harder said than done, but important)

Grow Healthy Eaters:

  • Have healthy foods easily accessible – a fruit bowl, a bowl of baby carrots with hummus to dip in. The idea is to make it easy for kids to get the healthy foods.
  • Make it fun and interesting – grow a vegetable garden, cut veggies into cute shapes
  • Let babies play with their food – it helps them build familiarity with the smells and tastes of healthy food.
  • Let kids assemble their lunch, grow food, pick from the garden for dinner. Dayle Hayes told us she would give her children a bowl and send them out to the garden to pick peas for dinner. They’d end up eating them before they even reached the kitchen. Smiling, she would send them back out for tomatoes. She knew this would happen and let it be a way to encourage them to eat veggies.

It’s a new year. What better time to put some of these ideas into practice in your home! I know I’ll be doing so in my home while Everyone is Around the Table.

Come! E.A.T. with us! 

Twitter: @CoParentEATblog



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