How to Raise Healthy Kids, Healthy Eaters: Part 1

mom and child cooking

You’re never too young to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

When it comes to eating right and getting movement in throughout the day, I’ve compiled some tips on how to raise healthy kids, making it both doable and fun!

What, When, Where, and How Much

We’ll start with what’s called “Division of Responsibility in Feeding,” a term coined by Ellyn Satter MS, RDN, MSSW. Ellyn is an internationally recognized authority on eating and feeding infants and children.

Her books are well-received among those interested in raising healthy eaters, starting with newborns through adolescents. You can read more about Ellyn and the Ellyn Satter Institute here.

The main premise that Ellyn focuses her work on is:

The parent is responsible for what, when, and where the child is fed.

The child is responsible for how much they eat and whether they will eat the food the parent has offered.

It sounds simple but sometimes we make it more complex than we need. I won’t go into too much detail here as it’s best to read Ellyn’s book. She goes step by step through how to raise happy, healthy, confident eaters.

Basically,  you decide what the child is served and when they are served a snack or a meal. The child decides what they will eat from what is served and how much they will eat.

In terms of what is best to serve growing children, fruits and vegetables should be served at each meal and the child should have unlimited access to these.

Protein should also be offered at each meal, such as turkey, chicken, lean beef, and fish.

Complex carbohydrates are important, too and servings of carbohydrates for children are generally a ¼ to a ½ cup. So for example, a child should receive about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cooked rice or sweet potatoes per meal, depending on their age.

Round out the meal with some milk or non-dairy milk with added calcium and you have an excellent meal ready to nourish your child.

How to Eat Right – Kids Edition

Breakfast is very important to growing bodies. A well-rounded morning meal could be:

  • Slow cooked oats with fruit and low-sugar Greek yogurt
  • Banana with peanut butter and raisins
  • Scrambled eggs with berries on the side

Snacks could be anything served at a meal, just in a smaller portion. Some snack ideas include:

  • Fresh fruit and cottage cheese
  • String cheese and apple slices
  • Raw veggies with dip

Just remember to keep candy, chips, and cookies to occasional treats. These should not be offered as a snack on a regular basis if you want to instill healthy eating habits early on.

Talk about “sometimes” foods and how we can enjoy them too, just like healthy food. We just enjoy the “sometimes” foods less frequently so our bodies have lots of room for the healthier stuff.

Try as often as you can to make mealtime family time. With after-school activities and work schedules, it can be hard to all sit-down together at the table. Are there at least two or three nights a week when you can all eat together? Start there and see if you can add more as time goes on.

Be sure to serve at least one fruit and/or one veggie at each meal.

It’s also best to turn off the TV while eating. Studies have shown that watching TV or using an electronic device while we’re eating causes us to eat more than we should. So instill healthy habits early on with your kids and keep TV for after dinner in order to prevent mindless eating.

If you’re wanting to encourage your child to try new foods, instead of rewarding them with dessert after dinner, let them choose a non-food reward for trying a bite of something new for them. Such rewards could be:

  • Stickers
  • Game time
  • Story time
  • Favorite music sing along

My kids always choose to have mom and dad jump on the trampoline with them after dinner if they’ve tried something new. Fun for everyone!

girl drinking

How to Drink Right – Kids Edition

Primarily, water should be the main drink your child has throughout the day.

Whether it is plain or sparkling, water is best.

Sodas really don’t have a place in a child’s diet as they lead to excess calories and the potential for developing cavities. An occasional soda is probably ok, but make sure the rest of the time, the child has access to lots of fresh water.

Meals can be rounded out with milk or non-dairy milks which have added calcium. Good sources of non-dairy milks include calcium-fortified almond milk or coconut milk. Just check the nutrition facts label. It should list 10% to 30% of the daily value for calcium per serving.

Be sure to set a good example by drinking your 8-10 glasses of water daily!

Part 2

Here’s part two of this blog series on raising healthy eaters. I’ll discuss cooking with kids and helping them get the right amount of movement in every day.

What works well for you when you’re feeding your young children so they have healthy eating habits?

Does you child hate spinach?

Does your child like something most kids don’t?

I’d love to hear from you!

Caitlin Signature



-Caitlin Russell MS, RDN, CLT

*This page contains affiliate links where I receive a very small commission if you purchase items that I recommend. 

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