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Make Healthful Eating Fun for Kids

young mother teaching young child to cookWhen it comes to getting your children to eat healthier foods, remember that they are kids.  Mealtimes – and snack times, too – should be good, even fun, experiences.

But that doesn’t mean they have to consist entirely of cookies and candy!  Here are a few things you can do at home to boost your children’s interest in healthy food.

  • Let your kids help in the kitchen.  Even children as young as 2 can:

    • help wipe tables
    • tear lettuce or greens
    • snap green beans
    • rinse produce.

Getting kids involved with meal preparation will increase their enthusiasm to eat the foods they help prepare.

  • Help your kids make fun, healthy snacks.  Ideas include:

    • “Bugs on a Log” – Fill celery with a little peanut butter and place raisins on top.
    • “Fruit Kebobs” – Put melon balls and cubes of fruit on a stick.


  • Most of all, be a good role model:

    • Pile those vegetables high on your dinner plate.
    • Drink your milk.
    • Choose whole-grain foods you enjoy and share them with your children.

As with anything, children learn more from watching what you do than from listening to what you say.


What the Research Shows

How you display healthy foods can make all the difference.

A study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine examined elementary school children’s choices between a cookie and an apple (or both) at the end of their cafeteria serving line.  The number of kids choosing apples skyrocketed when the apples had a sticker featuring Elmo, a popular character from Sesame Street.  Interestingly, putting a sticker of an unknown character also increased apple choice, but not by nearly as much.

Another study, published in Pediatrics in 2010, showed that children were more likely to choose a snack — whether it was gummy bears or baby carrots — if the wrapper had a familiar character on it.  In this study, the characters tested included Shrek, Scooby-Doo and Dora the Explorer.


What This Means

These findings suggest that how you display nutritious foods can influence what your child chooses to eat.  You may be able to increase a food’s appeal to your child by associating it with a familiar or popular character.


Need Ideas to Get Started?

Check out the websites below for fun ways to involve your kids in cooking.  Your local library or bookstore may also have kid-friendly recipe books and videos. 

Cooking with Kids (PBSparents)

Healthy Cooking with Your Kids (fruit & veggies more matters)


Points to Remember:

Get your kids involved in the snack and meal preparation process.

Help your kids make fun, healthy snacks and meals.

Set a good example by eating healthy foods yourself.



Wansink, B.; Just, DR.; Payne, CR. “Can branding improve school lunches?”  Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, v. 166 issue 10, 2012, p. 967-8.

Roberto, CA.; Baik, J.; Harris, JL.; Brownell, KD.  “Influence of licensed characters on children’s taste and snack preferences.”  Pediatrics, v. 126 issue 1, 2010, p. 88-93.

 This article originally appeared in Chow Line, a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission.

For more information:

Go to the Kids’ Healthy Weight health topic.