Fostering Healthy Habits in Children: 10 Simple Strategies to Empower Your Family Toward a Healthier Future

by | Apr 29, 2024

Safeguard against chronic diseases and promote family involvement for optimal wellness. Implement simple strategies during Every Kid Healthy Week—and beyond—to empower your family toward a healthier future.

Establishing healthy eating habits in childhood sets the foundation for a lifetime of well-being. Children need a balanced diet comprising a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy. Encouraging kids to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables provides diverse nutrients essential for growth and development, but it might not be so easy to get everyone on board, depending on age range, personal preferences, or taste and texture aversions.

Every Kid Healthy Awareness

At the end of every April is Every Kid Healthy Awareness Week, which focuses on promoting children’s well-being and highlights the importance of early intervention and education in fostering healthy habits in children.

School-Based Initiatives

Schools play a vital role in promoting healthy behaviors among children and students by providing environments that support physical activity, proper nutrition, and overall well-being. They can achieve this by offering nutritious meals and snacks, implementing physical education programs, and encouraging regular exercise through activities like sports teams and fitness classes. Additionally, schools can educate students about the importance of healthy habits, such as staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and managing stress. By fostering a culture of health and wellness, schools empower students to make informed choices that contribute to their long-term health [1].

Most cities have resources for schools that wish to incorporate a regular wellness program in their curriculum. Check out the initiatives presented in New York City as an example.

Community Engagement

As the old adage goes, “it takes a village to raise a child” which is why it is important to involve families of all kinds and their communities in promoting children’s health by providing a supportive environment where positive habits can flourish. Through community activities, such as volunteering, children learn valuable skills, develop a sense of civic responsibility, and foster a sense of belonging [2].

Engagement with various community resources and organizations introduces children to opportunities for physical activity, nutrition education, and mental well-being initiatives, contributing to overall health and fitness. Furthermore, community involvement creates opportunities for children to build relationships, learn about themselves, and develop resilience in tackling challenges, all of which are essential aspects of healthy development.

Key Components of Children’s Health

Nutrition Education

Whether in schools or through community programs, nutrition education helps teach students how to make healthy food and beverage choices. It emphasizes the need for schools to provide various learning opportunities throughout the day to develop these skills among students [3].

Nutritious food choices for children are essential for their growth and development. A balanced diet includes a variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products, providing essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber. These foods support stable energy levels, strong bones and teeth, healthy growth, and overall well-being.

Encouraging children to develop healthy eating habits from a young age can set them up for a lifetime of good health. Limiting sugary snacks and beverages helps prevent dental issues and allows children to opt for healthier choices. Encouraging water consumption over sugary drinks promotes proper hydration and overall health.

Whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat bread, and oatmeal provide essential nutrients and fiber for kids’ health. Calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt are crucial for children’s bone development. By prioritizing balanced nutrition, parents and caregivers can help children thrive and reach their full potential.

Physical Activity

Just like any human at any age, the importance of regular physical activity for children and adolescents can not be overlooked. Moving regularly has numerous benefits such as improving cardiorespiratory fitness, building strong bones and muscles, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases [4].

The CDC recommends that children and adolescents aged 6 through 17 engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily, which can have positive impacts on academic performance and overall well-being. Check out this list of age-appropriate exercises and activities.

Mental Health Awareness

It is possible that children dealing with internalizing issues might eat poorly as a way to feel better. As we come to learn more about the gut-brain axis, we recognize that early eating habits and what children eat might also play a big role in how they feel, not only physically, but mentally. Not having enough healthy foods in their diet might lead to nutrient deficiencies (for example, folate, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium), which may contribute to mental health problems [5].

Click here for some strategies for promoting positive mental well-being in children.

Challenges and Solutions

  1. One of the simplest ways to get children curious and foster their interest in healthy eating is by having them assist in meal planning and preparation.
  2. Check out local farmers markets, restaurants, and diverse neighborhoods to expand a child’s palate.
  3. Model healthy eating behaviors as adults to positively influence children’s food choices.
  4. Snack time can be an opportunity to offer nutrient-dense foods like yogurt, nuts, or sliced fruits.
  5. Limit screen time during meals to encourage mindful eating habits and family interaction.
  6. Be patient when introducing new foods, flavors, or different methods of cooking/preparing meals. Most children need to test and try new foods at least a dozen times before they get used to them. Allow kids to experiment and never force a child to “clean their plate“.
  7. Incorporate fun and interactive food experiences, like themed meals or food art, to make healthy eating enjoyable for kids.
  8. Eat slowly and mindfully to help kids manage portion control and prevent overeating.
  9. Engaging in physical activities and outdoor play supports overall health in addition to a balanced diet.
  10. Consult with a registered dietitian or pediatrician can provide tailored guidance for children’s nutrition needs, especially when managing food allergies or intolerances, or if you have a selective eater in your household.

What’s Cooking?

Add some of these fun and simple recipes to your weekly meal plan which should get everyone in your household on board with healthy eating:

  1. Veggie Packed Pasta (contains dairy) – a nutritious, sneaky way to incorporate extra veggies into a kid-friendly meal.
  2. Homemade Fruit Popsicles (contains raw fruit) – a refreshing and healthy treat made with real fruit and natural sweeteners.
  3. Mini Veggie Pizzas (contains wheat, dairy) – a fun and customizable way for kids to enjoy vegetables while making their own pizzas.
  4. Banana-Oat Pancakes (also available in eggless version) – a wholesome breakfast option packed with fiber and potassium.

Cooking nutritious food at home doesn’t have to be complicated! Check out our podcast episode with fellow dietitian Kristi Ruth.




I’m Dina R. D’Alessandro, MS, RDN, CDN. I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in New York City, and I provide nutrition counseling to women.

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