Providing Care: Healthy Meals for Kids

Feeding children well in our fast-food nation

boy eating breakfast

Educate yourself

You can't give children the foods they should be eating if you don't know what those foods are. Review the revised food pyramid, which tells you what foods -- and how much of them -- children need.

Review your resources

There are millions of recipes on the internet, and you don't have to look very hard to find them. KidsHealth has doctor-approved recipes for all children, and special recipes for children with diabetes, lactose intolerance, and other health problems. The websites of your favorite foodie magazines, including Everyday Food and Food & Wine, catalog recipes that have been printed in past issues and allow you to search for healthy options.

Clear your cabinets

If you're providing child care in your home, clear your cabinets of junk food. Stock only healthy snacks, such as fruits, nuts, and celery sticks. Don't use candy or chips as rewards. Instead, choose small, age-appropriate treats, such as stickers for young children and free music downloads for teens.

Put a stop to heaping helpings

Give children small meals. Spend time eating with them. Share stories as well as food. Encourage them to eat slowly and to put down their utensils between bites. If a child is still hungry, give her more food after 15-20 minutes. Remember, it will take her time to realize she's full.

Lead by example

You can't keep kids from eating sweets if you're sneaking mini chocolate bars between activities. Even if their parents don't lead by example, when children are in your care, you should.

Turn off the TV!

Don't let your charges get distracted during meals. That means no TV, video games, or eating on the go. Children (and grownups) need to pay attention to subtle signals from their bodies to ensure they're not mindlessly overeating.

You don't need to be a dietitian on top of your regular duties, but you do need to realize that you can positively impact a child's eating habits, and, ultimately, her lifestyle.

Fast fact

Between the ages of 2 and 5, a child will start to need less fat in her diet. By the time she is 5, no more than 30 percent of her calories should come from fat.

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Comments (36)
Photo of Javiera O.
Javiera O.
You can make smoothies containing daily amounts of fruits and veggies.
Posted: April 25, 2013 at 5:23 PM
Genise G.
Hey, Suzanne, I want your recipe for homemade mac'n cheese!
Posted: February 11, 2013 at 5:40 PM
Photo of Suzanne G.
Suzanne G.
My kids love cooked banana squash added to our homemade mac'n cheese. They always notice when I leave it out.
Posted: September 20, 2012 at 6:20 PM
Photo of Patricia L.
Patricia L.
Jennifer-I do the same thing! My daughter loves ants on a log, also insteady of using the Hershey chocolate you can use modeling chocolate it comes in bags at the store in the baking section and you melt it dip and cool just like you said...the other fun thing you can do with modeling chocolate is you can buy lollipop stencils and different colored chocolates and "paint" your own lollipops my mom did it with us and we would be occupied for hours doing this.
Posted: June 21, 2012 at 7:51 PM
Kevin W.
When i work with kids i like to make fat free foods and things like orange slices and nuts such as peanuts and postacios
Posted: May 26, 2012 at 4:05 PM
Photo of Jennifer C.
Jennifer C.
I always like to make ants on a log with children ( and they enjoy helping). Simply by taking celery, spreading peanut butter in the middle, and putting raisins along the line as the ants. Kids love this (if theyre not allergic to peanut butter of course). Homemade chocolote covered pretzels is another fun snack to make, and it's so simple! You can use dark hershey chocolate too if you want to be healthier. But you simply melt the bars in the microwave, cover the pretzels in the melted chocolate by dipping them, and then spreading them out on wax paper. Refrigerate, and it's done! Kids love helping make this too :)
Posted: May 11, 2012 at 9:06 PM
Catherine R.
I am certain that I will not deal with picky eaters...at least I hope so.
Posted: March 20, 2012 at 6:52 AM
Dee N.
Little ones are so fun, with a little imagination the "sky" and most of all the the "plate" is the secret, fun with spring colors, and an array of veggies and fresh beautiful fruit, especially, when they can "choose! choose", or the real game is, they really "loose".... so, mommies, daddies, and nannies show them at an early age..."to loose is truly not to choose"... "Great food" is just You...... and you are what you eat, so eat up!!!!!
Posted: March 14, 2012 at 12:18 PM
Photo of Miranda S.
Miranda S.
I love what everybody has said here, great tips, especially Dannette and Ashley. I find that the more you allow a child to be part of what they create, by helping with the meal, they are more likely to own it or anything for that matter. I also have seen that many kids don't get many choices so I feel they are using their power when it comes to saying no they don't want vegetables.
Posted: February 23, 2012 at 5:41 PM
Photo of Jacquie K.
Jacquie K.
I juice a lot and my daughter and my god daughter both love it! they think they are just drinking juice but have no clue theres spinach or carrots or broccoli mixed in it!! or i make my daughter beet apple juice and she loves tha!
Posted: February 17, 2012 at 2:14 PM
Photo of Katie R.
Katie R.
Wow, Paula D.! I never would have thought of that! Good thinking! I will have to try that next time.
Posted: February 11, 2012 at 7:20 PM
Photo of Amanda G.
Amanda G.
I have found that for picky eaters it is easier to hide the vegetables in the foods I am preparing. (my food processor is good for this) Just pick a similar colored vegetable to what you are trying to hide. Mac & chese = adding carrots & or corn that I have put in the food processor. Something like Yogurt you can add berries to it to add fruit Chicken nuggets can even be veggied up if you get one of those flavor Injector needles to add the purred vegetables to the chicken nuggets - my fave for this is actually yellow squash or the like as it hides better in the nugget.
I hope this was helpful.
Posted: January 15, 2012 at 7:53 AM
Celia L.
Celia L I loved Tricia C"s idea's I would love to use them I am a Nanny for a 15month old she loves fruit and veggies She also loves eggs with cheese I try not to give her that to often she also likes toast with a little jelly, I like to give her a variety of healthy food,It always includes veggies and fruit and milk of course she also get's plenty of water, I don't have any problem with breakfast ideas but sometimes I have trouble coming up with what to give her for lunch she is not a picky eater but I would like to try different things any ideas?
Posted: December 28, 2011 at 1:24 AM
Erika A.
I have 5 children and after all kinds of different attempts to get them to eat well, all I can say is that nothing beats: fresh fruit, veggies and ranch dip
and V8 Splash!
Posted: December 13, 2011 at 6:35 PM
Photo of Ashley O.
Ashley O.
Letting the kids help you make the food can be very helpful if they are old enough because then they feel like they've had a say in what they get to eat even if you do put veggies in the meal. They will be proud of the food and want to eat it. This also teaches them how to cook healthily and be more responsible for themselves while having a blast at the same time! :)
Posted: December 08, 2011 at 5:46 PM
Photo of Alyssa M.
Alyssa M.
Wow maybe my son is stubborn or bright, but none of these tricks work with him! However, I do not pressure him to eat anything. I simply offer it when the family eats it and he picks. By the end of the week, his diet is balanced.
Posted: November 20, 2011 at 2:42 PM
Photo of Melynda B.
Melynda B.
My daughter is all about pink... I found a website about hiding veggies. You can make pink pancakes/waffles by putting beets in them... its so crazy because you cant even taste the beets. And then I top it with fresh strawberries and blueberries and whip cream to make a face. She loves them and begs for them every morning.
Posted: October 18, 2011 at 6:53 PM
Danette F.
I care for toddlers and often give the veggies first as an appetizer because they are more likely to eat them at the beginning of the meal when they are hungrier. I also give them a choice until the last thing is left. "Do you want to take a bite of mac n cheese or a bite of peas?" Sometimes mealtime can be a control issue so it makes them feel in control.
Posted: August 21, 2011 at 12:33 PM
Photo of Cynthia F.
Cynthia F.
I'm not a nutritionist but I believe any time you cook or steam veggies it reduces the nutrition value. However, if it's a toss between a little less nutritional value and no veggies at all, I would recommend cooking. Some is better than none. =)
I love the idea of a regular weekly eating plan. My family wants the children to eat less sweets but when they shop it's all that fills the cupboards. If I give them a list or idea of a weekly schedule they will be happy to make it happen I am sure. Thanks for the wonderful ideas.
Posted: August 17, 2011 at 8:18 PM
Photo of Kelli H.
Kelli H.
I was reading some of the comments...and i have a question...When you put veggies into burgers or a smoothie do they get the same nutriton then just putting them on the plate and letting them eat them?
Posted: August 17, 2011 at 1:26 PM
Photo of Summer C.
Summer C.
Tricia-that is such a great idea! This is going to make my life easier,at least in the morning! lol Thanks!!
Posted: August 16, 2011 at 10:40 PM
Sara E.
When I deal with picky children I have them pick out a special treat (candy or popcorn always small) that they can only have if they eat all the food on their plate. And i have never had it not work in fact they now like their veggies even without the treat. However the best way is to start when they are young the more they are introduced to new foods and healthier the more they are willing to eat different things and eat healthier.
Posted: August 01, 2011 at 10:39 PM
Photo of Amber L.
Amber L.
I loved your idea's Tricia C. I am going to copy you- I hope you don't mind me doing that! I needed something like that :) THANKS!
I loved all the tips. Something that we need to be reminded often!
Posted: August 01, 2011 at 1:12 AM
Photo of Tricia C.
Tricia C.
I always offer fresh fruit with every breakfast. We also have a set breakfast meal schedule so our kids know exactly what to expect. For example: Mondays are waffles, fruit and Milk, Tuesday is Pancakes, fruit and Juice, Wed is Cereal,fruit and Milk, Thursday is Toast,Cheese squares, fruit, juice and then Friday is grilled cheese, fruit and milk. I alternate the fresh fruit as well as milk and juice. We have six children and this works the best for us.We have the schedule printed on our fridge.lol
Posted: July 25, 2011 at 6:26 PM
Photo of Henriette D.
Henriette D.
As a Caregiver of young children meal times can be challenging. How you present food to a child can impact their eating habits and make mealtimes fun or a battle ground. I always try to be creative with my meals. (a funny face, a smiley face) Healthy foods can be fun. Presentation is the key!
Posted: July 02, 2011 at 12:28 AM
Photo of Dawn B.
Dawn B.
I have found that when you cut up carrots, celery, califlower, etc...on a plate and you want your kids to eat veggies...put a little dish of ranch dressing to dip them in!
Posted: June 10, 2011 at 12:06 PM
Belinda W.
Children are amazing, i have a 4 year old grandson and when he was three i spend alot of time careing for him. He did not like veggies, but he loved chicken noodle soupso i would thru the veggies in the soup and he would eat them, because grandma was eating with him. I love toddlers.
Posted: June 06, 2011 at 6:24 PM
Photo of Debbie M.
Debbie M.
I have helped young children eat fresh vegetables by serving them with a healthy "dip" made of cottage cheese, sour cream and powdered Ranch Dressing. They forget they are eating vegetables because they are so engrossed with the dipping the vegetable. I did this with a group of 8 and 9 year old boys who were cub scouts, working on their "Healthy living badge". The parents were amazed! The Parents started offering raw vegetables instead of cookign them for dinners.
Posted: May 18, 2011 at 1:26 PM
Photo of Karen T.
Karen T.
Karen T.

The way that I can get the young children I nanny for eat their fruits & vegs is pretty easy. I like to surprise them with bringing fresh blueberries, raspberries & strawberries in individual small containers to their homes. I show them that I am excited to eat these and most of the time they at least try one that they may never have had & usually end up loving them & their is barely any left for me! I show them that eating healthy can be fun & praise them for it! I have even made a simple healthy sandwich for myself and then the twins that I care for are very curious about my sandwich and love to share it with me. I encourage good healthy eating by example and it really works great! :o)
Posted: May 13, 2011 at 11:16 PM
Photo of Jennifer M.
Jennifer M.
One thing that helped me with some veggie hesitant children I've worked with was taking them to a garden and to the farmers market to pick the fresh veggies right from the field or at least choose them from the farmer. It was fun to walk around the market and try the fresh veggies and compare colors, textures, and prices. The next step was having them help with the preparation of the veggies. they loved washing the beets and watching the water turn purple! These kids were 6 and 8 years old.
Posted: May 11, 2011 at 11:51 PM
Photo of Nicole S.
Nicole S.
Sometimes hiding the veggies can be helpful. Mix veggies in with fruit smoothies (no tomatoes though, as they are a fruit and you will taste it in the smoothie) or inside ground meat for hamburgers. Not only will you end up with more patties for the meat, you'll have them eating veggies without knowing it.

If they like croissants there's a trick I did with my dad and cousin. You make the croissant into a pouch and shoved diced veggies inside, then add some Italian dressing to cover the veggies and seal the pouch. The dressing hides overpowers the veggies and they liked it a lot. =)
Posted: May 09, 2011 at 5:43 PM
Alessandra C.
I have tried all of these awesome ideas, and yet the girls I nanny for still won't eat more than a bite of any vegetable! When I first started a year ago, their diet consisted of mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, trix yogurt, and grilled cheese. I now have gotten them to eat fruits by making them into shapes, but it doesn't work with the vegetables. I even tried re-naming vegetables as other things such as "shooting stars" etc. but nothing works! Any other ideas?
Posted: April 13, 2011 at 1:47 PM
Photo of Misty M.
Misty M.
My husband and I enjoy giving our 1-year-old son a variety of healthy foods. Last weekend, I gave my son a slice of wheat bread with some peanut butter. He did eat 1/2 of the sandwich.
When we give him bread by itself, he does eat it.
Posted: April 08, 2011 at 10:20 PM
Photo of Carol C.
Carol C.
I find when I give my kids a variety of foods like a small buffet to choose from they eat better.
Posted: April 05, 2011 at 2:44 AM
Natalie C.
my son likes to have a peanut butter and honey sandwich for breakfast every morning and he likes when i cut it in different shapes or engrave a heart shape into the bread.
Posted: March 22, 2011 at 2:19 PM
Photo of Paula D.
Paula D.
Make fruit and vegetables fun to eat!
Cut out shapes and arrange them on a plate like a silly face with teeth & eyebrows.
Have the child name the silly face with their favorite character like Mickey Mouse.
Say silly things, like, "Oh no, you ate Mickey's nose"
They giggle and laugh and pretty soon all the fruits and veggies are GONE!
It works every time!

Paula D.
Funny Farm Entertainment
Posted: March 08, 2011 at 10:56 AM
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