Peer pressure and TV commercials for junk food can make getting your kids to eat well an uphill struggle. Factor in your own hectic schedule and it’s no wonder so many kids’ diets are built around convenience and takeout food. But switching to a healthy diet can have a profound effect on children’s health, helping to maintain a healthy weight, avoid certain health problems, stabilize their moods, and sharpen their minds. A healthy diet can also have a profound effect on a child’s sense of mental and emotional wellbeing, helping to prevent conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and ADHD.

Eating well can support a child’s healthy growth and development into adulthood and may even play a role in lowering the risk of suicide in young people. If your child has already been diagnosed with a mental health problem, a healthy diet can help your child to manage the symptoms and regain control of their health.

It’s important to remember that your kids aren’t born with a craving for French fries and pizza and an aversion to broccoli and carrots. This conditioning happens over time as kids are exposed to more and more unhealthy food choices. However, it is possible to reprogram your children’s food cravings so that they crave healthier foods instead.

The sooner you introduce wholesome, nutritious choices into your kids’ diets, the easier they’ll be able to develop a healthy relationship with food that can last them a lifetime. And it can be simpler and less time-consuming than you imagine. With these tips, you can instill healthy eating habits without turning mealtimes into a battle zone and give your kids the best opportunity to grow into healthy, confident adults.

Encourage healthy eating habits
Whether they’re toddlers or in their teens, children develop a natural preference for the foods they enjoy the most. To encourage healthy eating habits, the challenge is to make nutritious choices appealing.

Focus on overall diet rather than specific foods. Kids should be eating more whole, minimally processed food—food that is as close to its natural form as possible—and less packaged and processed food.

Be a role model. The childhood impulse to imitate is strong so don’t ask your child to eat vegetables while you gorge on potato chips.

Disguise the taste of healthier foods. Add vegetables to a beef stew, for example, or mash carrots up with mashed potato, or add a sweet dip to slices of apple.

Cook more meals at home. Restaurant and takeout meals have more added sugar and unhealthy fat so cooking at home can have a huge impact on your kids’ health. If you make large batches, cooking just a few times can be enough to feed your family for the whole week.

Get kids involved in shopping for groceries and preparing meals. You can teach them about different foods and how to read food labels.

Make healthy snacks available. Keep plenty of fruit, vegetables, and healthy beverages (water, milk, pure fruit juice) on hand so kids avoid unhealthy snacks like soda, chips, and cookies.

Limit portion sizes. Don’t insist your child cleans the plate, and never use food as a reward or bribe.