Children and food : Do’s and Don’ts


Think of food as fuel that is consumed throughout the day.

Encourage healthful eating from all food groups.

Plan meals with the child and shop on a weekly basis.

Stock the refrigerator with healthful  beverages (for example, plain water, flavored water, and reduced- fat milk/ soy  milk).

Provide a variety of foods for healthful snacks. Have nutrient – dense snacks readily available, such as chopped vegetables, fresh fruit, reduced- fat yogurt or cheese, and whole- grain crackers.

Often bake, broil, and grill lean protein foods, such as chicken, fish, & seafood.

Eat  together  as  a family without the TV.

Prepare one dinner for everyone in the family containing a no starchy vegetable, lean protein, and whole grain.

Serve plate meals ( as opposed to family style dining ), but allow the child to decide how much of the meal he or she wants to eat.

Require that breakfast be consumed within 1 hour of waking.

For non breakfast eaters, encourage starting the day with light choices, such as fruit or reduced- fat yogurt.

Consider fast food for special meals only ( if at all ).

Evaluate the school lunch menu and help the child select healthful choices, or pack lunch for school if healthful choices are not consistently available.

Continue to offer foods that children say they don’t like. (It takes 8-10 samples before they know if they do like it.)



Don’t think of food as “good” or “ bad.”

Don’t  allow the skipping of meals.

Don’t  eliminate any one food group.

Don’t  shop on a daily basis without a grocery list.

Don’t  stock the refrigerator with caloric beverages, including soda, punch, or juice drinks. In addition, don’t allow excessive 100% juice consumption.

Don’t give only one snack food choice.

Don’t fill cabinets with high- fat foods (for example, sugar crackers, cookies, candy, cakes, muffins, cereals, etc.)

Don’t prepare fried or breaded protein choices.

Don’t  allow the child to eat in front of the TV.

Don’t take individual food orders from family members.

Don’t override child’s  internal hunger/ satiety cues by adhering to the “clean plate club” mentality.

Don’t  allow children to leave the house in the morning without eating breakfast. Don’t make regular use of the drive through.

Don’t  presume that school lunch will consist of healthful options.

Don’t assume all school meals contain healthful ( and palatable) vegetables, fruits, lean protein, healthful  fats, and whole grains.

Don’t presuppose that children will dislike all vegetables.

Don’t assume a child will permanently dislike a food after  trying it only a few times.




Encourage 30-60 minutes of physical activity most days make physical activity fun by encouraging  team sports, active play, dancing, etc.

Be physically active as a family.

Plan active weekends, such as going to the park, playing sports, walking, biking, in-line skating, yard work, etc.

Limit TV/ video time to 2 hours per day. Keep the TV in the family room.

Encourage adequate sleep:

  • 12-14 hours for 1-3 year olds
  • 11-13 hours for 3-5 years olds
  • 10-11 hours for 5-12 year olds
  • 8.5-10 hours for 12-18 years  olds



Don’t allow more than 2 hours  of sedentary activity, such as television viewing or video game use.

Don’t  make physical activity about winning, exercise, or redundant activities.

Don’t be a drill sergeant yelling on the sidelines.

Don’t plan weekend activities that involve food and/ or inactivity, such as movies, video games, watching televised sporting events, etc.

Don’t allow unrestricted freedom with TV use, Don’t keep the TV in the bedroom.

Don’t overstress the child with unmanageable extracurricular activities.




Eat healthfully together as a family.

Focus on healthful eating for life.

Model healthful eating.

Allow child to set, in writing, realistic goals related to healthful eating and physical activity.

Check with the child weekly or daily for check-ins regarding successes and challenges.  Acknowledge positive changes with verbal praise and non-food-related rewards focusing on privileges and activities. plan for setbacks.

Discuss  challenges/ barriers and brainstorm possible solutions.

Encourage self- monitoring, such as keeping food diaries as a way of journaling the experience.

Make the social aspect the focus of celebration.



Don’t alienate the overweight child by having him or her eat one way and the family another.

Don’t make the focus on dieting, restriction, or weight loss  only.

Don’t play food police, commenting on every food as a “good “ or “ bad” choice.

Don’t establish broad, unattainable goals for the child.

Don’t assume goals will always be met.

Don’t presuppose the child is doing fine with his or her goal.

Don’t criticize shortcomings or use food as an incentive or threat. Don’t ignore realities of problem situations.

Don’t use food diaries as punishment or means  to criticize failures.

Don’t make food the focus of  celebrations.

Don’t assume that the only reason a child  wants to change his or her eating habits is to be healthier.





Talk about what is motivating a child to change his or her eating habits.

Discuss coping skills for dealing with feelings of unfairness about not eating like friends.

Open up dialogue in the sensitive subject of self- esteem by asking what the child/ teen likes about him- or herself.

Ask if teasing is occurring at school.

Adopt a no- tolerance policy for teasing in the household.

Speak up for overweight individuals when they are ridiculed in conversations, jokes, or on TV programs.

Address the beauty of all body types. Speak positively about physical appearance.



Don’t respond, “life isn’t always fair.”

Don’t ignore the sensitive issue of self- esteem.

Don’t be afraid to ask about teasing.

Don’t be silent when teasing occurs or inappropriate references regarding body size/ shape occur in the media.

Don’t assume  children know that extremely thin  cartoon characters, movie stars, fashion models, and musicians do not possess the ideal body frame.

Don’t talk disparagingly about one’s own or another’s body.