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Healthier eating in the new year is a resolution you can keep. No, really!

Family preparing vegetables in the kitchen

Be honest: How many days into the new year did you make it before you abandoned all those well-intentioned resolutions? It happens to the best of us. But as a parent, finding ways to implement healthier eating habits for your family is a constant priority — and struggle. 

Despite the cliché of failed resolutions this time of year, now is the perfect time to launch some new healthy eating habits that will benefit both your kids’ growing bodies and your family as a whole. 

These new changes need to be a family affair, and it starts with you. It’s important to have a plan ahead of time (and feel confident about the plan) so you’re prepared to answer questions from your children — and, of course, endure the pushback you’ll inevitably face.  

After all, no one likes to be deprived of our favorite things. But, unlike that way-too-ambitious workout resolution you set for yourself, it’s very possible to make some real, tangible changes for your kids for a healthier 2024! 

Small changes, big results 

You could probably name 10 different things about your family’s eating and drinking habits you know you need to change. Put that list aside for now. Instead, start with just one or two. Trying to tackle too much at once becomes overwhelming, and you’ll end up failing at them all. Here are a few ideas to start: 

Make healthy choices easy choices 

One reason processed foods are so popular is they’re so convenient. Make healthy choices just as easy: Wash some grapes and have them in an open bowl in the fridge, for example. Kids are more likely to eat something that’s easy to grab and doesn't take a lot of prep.  

Pay attention to snacks 

Kids are often hungry and tired right after school, so they reach for what's quick and easy. Try to find options with protein and fiber, like some fruits or veggies with Greek yogurt, or a low-fat cheese stick to help them feel satisfied until dinnertime. 

Think add instead of replace 

Feel like your kids aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables? Rather than eliminate all the not-so-healthy sides at dinner, for example, just add some other healthy options. You can help kids develop a preference for them by presenting them in an attractive way over multiple occasions. Over time your kids will build enthusiasm and may be more willing to make other new switches. 

  • Pro tip: Start with sugary drinks. These are one of the biggest culprits in an unhealthy diet, so try to replace a sugary drink with something fun, bubbly and zero-calorie — maybe something with a slice of fruit in it.  

Considerations for healthier childhood weight 

Childhood obesity continues to be a serious problem in the U.S., affecting about 14.7 million children. If this is a concern for your child, making healthy dietary changes is crucially important, but should also be handled delicately. 

Don’t single out the child  

Make healthy changes apply to the whole family; don’t apply the restrictions to only one child. 

Go beyond weight 

Frame the conversation with your child in terms of their overall well-being. What you eat makes a difference in how you feel, so emphasize how certain food choices may lead to more energy and better moods, especially if they can also incorporate physical activity. 

Know when to seek help 

Extra weight can be a health risk and should be taken seriously. Talk to your child’s primary care provider for a possible evaluation for complications of weight. There are many contributors beyond just what we eat and drink, so it’s important to maintain a holistic view. 

Persevere for positive change 

Any change is tough, but you will be more successful by making the process fun and allowing your kids to be involved as much as possible. Also, don’t forget these changes should be made as a family. After all, you are your child’s most important role model.  

It’s also great to shower praise on your kids (and others in the house!) as they begin to make some healthy choices. It really does go a long way.  

Making a shift to healthier eating can get discouraging, but stick with it, stay patient and be enthusiastic. Any small change you can achieve will always be worth the effort.  

Weight Management

Director, Advocacy, Center for Children's Healthy Lifestyles & Nutrition; Professor of Pediatrics, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine; Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Kansas School of Medicine