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Tips for parents: Aim for healthy family meals, snacks

“Eat this.” “Don’t eat that” If only it were so

Eating a variety of foods is recommended for health, but trying to overhaul your or your family’s eating habits can be a challenge, said Sandy Procter, Kansas State University Research and Extension nutrition educator.

Food likes, dislikes and eating habits may date back to a person’s childhood, she said.

If Daddy didn’t like peas, chances are little Seth didn’t grow up liking them, either, said Procter, who is a registered dietitian and coordinator of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in Kansas.

The good news is that it’s never too late to start eating a greater variety of foods that contribute to health, she said.

Procter recommends aiming for gradual changes, rather than making an issue of food.

“Strive to plan and provide regular meals and snacks,” said Procter, who offered these additional tips:

  • Children have small stomachs, so they need regular meals that are supplemented by snacks to fill the gap between meals. If children know that regular meals and snacks will be provided, they typically are less likely to overeat between meals.
  • Shut down snacks one hour before mealtime, so as not to spoil the appetite.
  • Short on mealtime ideas or snack suggestions? Not feeling confident in the kitchen? Check with a county or district K-State Research and Extension office for information on choosing foods for nutrition and health, cooking, and meal management.
  • Make mealtime a family time. Ask the kids to help set the table and encourage them to start learning basic food safety and cooking skills. County and district Extension offices can offers “Kids A Cookin'” videos, drawn from the public television program with the same name. The program also offers easy recipes, cooking and food safety tips, and exercise and activity pointers on the Web at
  • Serve food family style to allow family members to choose a portion that matches their appetite. While it’s true that an 8-year-old may load up on mashed potatoes or some other favorite food, children typically model parents’ behaviors. If parents choose moderate-size servings of a variety of foods, kids will usually follow suit. Also, if children know food will be available, they may be less likely to overeat.
  • If a child is hesitant to try a new food, don’t force the issue. Wait a few weeks and serve it again, perhaps in a different form. For example, a child may shy away from drinking vegetable juice, yet like it in spaghetti sauce.
  • Offer milk or water, not soft drinks, at meals.
  • Dessert? A sweet treat may please, but need not be high in calories and fat. Fruit, low-fat yogurt, or a cookie often can satisfy without adding too many extra calories.
  • Forget about the “Clean Plate Club.” Children typically eat when hungry and stop eating when they are full.
  • To help children learn to gauge portions, compare recommended serving sizes with everyday objects, such as an average apple, which is about the size of a baseball; two tablespoons of peanut butter, which together are about the size of a golf ball; an ounce of cheese, which is about the size of a nine-volt battery; and a regular pancake, which is about the size of a CD.
  • Pre-package single servings to help family members gauge serving size. To trim time and perhaps costs, make pre-packaging single servings a family project.
  • Eating out? Must have French fries? To trim calories, fat and the cost, share an order of fries, rather than ordering individual servings. Ordering from the children’s or a lunch menu that may offer smaller servings or even sharing an entr�e can also trim calories, fat and expense.

More information on managing family meals successfully is available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices and on Extension’s Web site:

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