Start Early for Lifelong Healthy Eating Habits
Healthy eating starts early in life.
As a dietitian, I often get asked about healthy eating for a growing family. Here are some common questions that I hear from people I speak with.
Question: How do I encourage my kids to eat more vegetables?
Children learn about foods and eating by watching those around them. Be a role model by including vegetables at most meals and snacks, and by eating together as much as possible. Here are a few ideas to encourage your kids to eat more vegetables:
• Let your child choose a new vegetable and let them help prepare it. Younger children can help wash vegetables, put them in bowls or stir in ingredients. Older children can help with reading recipes and cutting.
• Offer vegetables prepared in different ways. For example, offer cut up peppers with dip one day, and sauté them another day.
• Add vegetables to sauces, soups, stews, stir fries and casseroles. For example, add green peas to a pasta bake or casserole.
• Serve vegetables alongside familiar foods without pressure or rules about tasting them or eating a certain amount. Allow children to decide whether or not to eat foods that are offered at meals and snacks. Pressuring and bribing children to eat may lead to negative attitudes about eating.
For more inspiration, check out Healthy Eating Starts Here for healthy recipes with vegetables.
Question: How do I encourage my pre-teen daughter to have a healthy relationship with food?
At this age, aim to eat together as a family as much as possible. Research shows regular family meals have a positive impact on a child’s mental health as well as nutritional health. Mealtimes are a great way to stay connected as a family and role model healthy eating behaviours.
I’d also suggest involving your daughter in menu planning, grocery shopping and meal preparation as much as possible to give her responsibility and choice into family meals. Avoid using food (such as dessert) as a reward or a punishment in your daily family routine to support her feeling good about food and nutrition. You can also find more tips for encouraging healthy eating in five to eleven year olds.
Question: My 10-month-old daughter is really struggling with the transition to cow's milk. How do I help her through the transition?
If your baby is transitioning from breastmilk:
Breastfed babies do not need to drink cow’s milk if you and your daughter both want to continue to breastfeed. If you would like to reduce or stop breastfeeding after 9-12 months, whole cow’s milk (3.25% M.F.) is recommended as a substitute. It may take several days or weeks for your baby to accept cow’s milk, so be patient. Start by offering whole milk in an open cup at meals and snacks. You may try offering the milk at a different temperature or in a different cup to encourage your daughter to accept it.
If your baby is transitioning from formula:
You can switch your daughter from formula to whole cow’s milk (3.25% M.F.) between 9-12 months. If she is rejecting whole milk, you can replace some of her formula with whole milk and increase the amount over several days or weeks until only whole milk is offered. At this age, whole milk can be offered in a bottle or in an open cup with meals and snacks. You might also offer the milk at a different temperature or in a different cup to encourage your daughter to accept it.
Babies learn a lot by observing those around them, so be a role model and drink milk with your meals. You may also offer yogurt, cheese or kefir regularly as a good source of calcium, fat and protein.
At 10 months, your baby needs less milk than she did when she was younger. As she moves through this transition, keep in mind that by 12 months, about 500mL (or 2 cups) of milk is enough.
Question: My son is such a picky eater and just wants to eat toast with jam and fruit. How do I encourage him to broaden his horizons?
Feeding children can be challenging. Sometimes children reject foods they previously loved or eat a lot one day and very little the next. It is common for children to request a certain food for days or weeks, and suddenly move on to a different food.
Children learn about food and eating by watching others. Be a positive role model and plan regular meals and snacks, sitting together to eat the same foods as much as possible.
You could also try offering familiar foods (such as toast or fruit) alongside new or previously rejected foods – as well as a variety of foods every day. Be patient and know that it can take 15 or more tries at different times before your son will accept new foods. You can also check out this tip sheet for feeding toddlers and young children.
Save the date! Join our Facebook Live Healthy Eating Q&A with Christine Fletcher: March 22, 10 a.m. MST. Have a nutrition or healthy eating question? Leave a comment below or email it in advance to [email protected]. During the Q&A, Christine will also offer tips and advice to create and maintain healthy eating habits for all ages.
Please note: we can’t answer questions that include too much personal health information. For medical advice, contact your physician or call Health Link by dialing 811 to speak with a registered nurse 24/7.
Join the conversation, and be inspired to think about your wellness!
Share what balance looks like to you, using #AHSwhatsyourbalance on social media. Or visit to download the Wellness Scorecard to get started on your path to finding balance.
Please note the ‘What’ your balance?’ blog posts are views of the authors only, and should not be considered as formal advice and instruction. Readers should consult with appropriate health professionals or dial 811 for Health Link on any matter related to their health and wellbeing.