Junk Food: How To Teach Your Kids About Nutrition
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Dietitian Advice on Healthy Food vs. Junk Food


two young boys and and older sister reading a recipe togetherWith marketers tempting kids with the latest and greatest TV commercials and food packaging for junk food, it is becoming more and more difficult to get kids engaged in healthy eating.  The good news is that despite our challenging environment there are some simple things you can do at home and with kids to help increase their interest in healthy foods.

Parents and caregivers at home are the single most important influencers of healthy eating and lifelong eating habits.  As a parent or caregiver if you haven’t made the greatest choices over the years, keep in mind it is never too late to learn and implement healthier choices and be the role model that you want to be.


How to get kids to eat healthy food:


1.   Cook with them


When people ask me what the best way to teach kids about nutrition would be, I always respond the same way.  Most kids don’t need to know much about calories, carbs, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals, instead they need to know about food. Knowledge about food starts in helping them understand how food grows, how to prepare it and cook delicious foods in the kitchen.

To inspire healthy habits with your kids simply cook with them at all ages.  Teach them how to use a knife early on and involve them as a little chef, sous chef or head chef.  If you don’t have great culinary skill don’t worry, you can learn together!

Watch cooking TV shows (including kids cooking competitions) or find a YouTube video of something interesting they want to learn.  You can also give them the task to search in the library, at home in your cookbooks or online for healthy recipes to try together.

This summer find a kids cooking camp they can register in (from my experience those that are chef taught are far superior to those that are not).  You will love the fact you don’t need to pack lunch and that your kids will come home ready to cook dinner and dazzle you with their new skills.

Take kids to the farmers market or you-pick-farms to teach them about how food grows, name new foods and choose fresh foods to come home and cook.  If you don’t know how to cook them, do an Internet search or find a YouTube video of “how to cook ______” to learn along side your child.  Let them whisk the scrambled eggs, stir the pancake batter, mix up the muffins and when age appropriate slice the veggies for the stir-fry or make the homemade breaded chicken fingers.

For more age appropriate teaching ideas check out these public health resources for teachers and educators here.

2.    Eat meals together


With so many extracurricular activities happening over the dinner hour it is becoming more difficult for families to eat together.  Protect this time as much as possible since research shows families that eat together have better nutrient intakes, less risk of obesity, less risk of eating disorders and have kids that perform better academically.

Eating together is one of the few times that families get to connect together and check-in about challenges.  Research also shows that families that eat together also have kids that are less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs.

Eat as many supper meals together as possible (even if this means having a larger after school snack and a later supper meal together when everyone can reconvene).  If you currently eat few meals together start with Sunday dinner and grow from there.  Also consider eating breakfast together as another way to connect and model good eating habits.

3.  Parents choose what to eat, kids decide how much


I am an advocate of Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding which emphasizes parents choose what to eat, kids decide how much.

Our kids need to grow up with structure and the security that food will be offered at regular times and that sometimes they will get their favorites and sometimes they will get not-so-favorites.

We want to exposure our kids to a large variety of healthy “grow foods.” Keep in mind it can take at least 15-20 times for a new food to be accepted.  The best approach to getting picky eaters to try new things is to make mealtimes non-stressful and to eat together and offer a good variety of healthy meals.  In time kids will surprise you.

Instead of saying “just try one bite” instead try the expression “you can try one bite and if you don’t like it you can politely spit it out.”  Offer a napkin or a “no thank you” bowl at the table if they tried them and didn’t want to swallow them.  This might sound strange but kids are more willing to try things if they know they have an out.

Kids decide how much to eat and if they are going to eat anything at all.  Respect your child’s request to ask for more food and also to leave food on the plate, as we want them to listen to their hunger cues and respect them.  Be clear that this is the meal that is available and that another snack or meal is not going to be offered for a few hours.

4.  Balancing a mix of “grow foods” and “fun foods”two young boys and and older sister reading a recipe together


At each meal provide three things for balance (grains/starches, vegetables and/or fruit and a source of protein).  At snacks offer one or two of these items and space them out with enough time that they will be hungry for the upcoming meal.

Look at healthier ways to provide treats such as homemade frozen yogurt popsicles, oatmeal date squares, oatmeal raisin cookies and apple crisp.  Try making nachos on Friday night for supper with cheese, meat/beans, fresh made salsa and guacamole.  Make air popped popcorn with butter and a pinch of salt rather than packaged microwaved style popcorn full of preservatives.

It is also important to teach them how to manage “fun foods” such as sweets and savory foods chosen more for taste, celebration and social fun.  This means teaching embracing a philosophy that all foods can fit.  If you don’t include any fun foods at home your child may eat a dozen cookies at a friends house rather than a couple since basic psychology suggests we all want what we can’t have.  The healthiest, most flexible eaters lifelong have exposure to a wide variety of all foods.


Global CalgaryWATCH this previous segment on how to teach kids about nutrition and manage junk food:

Need more support with family meal planning and how to manage junk foods for your family?

As Registered Dietitians that specialize in meal planning, weight concerns, emotional eating, eating disorders, digestive health, heart health, diabetes and sports nutrition we can see you in our local Calgary nutritionist office or as an Online Dietitian by phone or video conferencing for virtual nutrition counseling. Find out more about our Dietitian Nutrition Counseling Programs here.

Looking for more nutrition support from the comfort of your own home? Join the waiting list for our next Online Nutrition Course The Pursuit of Healthiness.

As university trained Registered Dietitians, you can count on us for credible advice and practical meal planning so you don’t have to stress about food anymore. You can achieve a healthy and joyous relationship with food and your body. Let’s talk about what this can look like for you. CONTACT US.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As seen in


Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This