Ready, prep, grow! How to make healthy food fun for your kids

One of the most common challenges families face is trying to get their kids to enjoy healthy food.
According to new research conducted by Sanitarium and Life Ed, almost half (44%) of parents of young school children (aged 4-12) are concerned that their children don’t know how to make healthy food choices.1 We all know the importance of those early childhood years when it comes to forming healthy habits that allow our kids to grow to their full potential. Recent studies have even revealed the surprising links between the foods we eat and our mental health, which starts from a young age.2

But it isn’t always easy to get kids on board. We can all relate to the struggle of vegetables being pushed to the edge of the dinner plate and uneaten apples and bananas buried in school backpacks!

In fact, the recent Nutrition across the life stages study from the AIHW found that 99% of kids aged 2–18 years do not eat the recommended daily serve of vegetables.

Meanwhile, today’s parents list ‘eating more vegetables’ as the healthy behaviour they would most like to see their children adopt (52%), as well as eating more fruit (43%) and reducing the amount of sugar in their diet (36%) according to a YouGovGalaxy study.3This wish-list gets even trickier to achieve with more than a third of parents feeling unable to shape their children’s food decisions amongst the amount of competing messages about health, nutrition and food choices from peers, school and the media they face every day.

So here are some simple tips to help get your kids excited by nutritious foods and developing healthy habits from a young age.

Make meal preparation fun

Researchers from the University of Notre Dame found that kids who are involved in food preparation are more likely to eat home-made meals and make wiser food choices.

Transform helping out in the kitchen from a “chore” into a “masterclass” by tapping into your inner Master Chef. Walk them through how you’re preparing the meal step-by-step, while supervising them to help with age-appropriate tasks like rinsing, peeling and mashing vegetables, tearing up greens, and stirring/mixing ingredients.

You can even incorporate a bit of dress-ups by buying some fun chef hats and aprons, so it feels more like playtime.

Create games around food

The Little People, Big Lives report from the University of Notre Dame showed that involving kids in shopping and choosing menus helps give them important life-skills, engaging their creativity and curiosity about different foods.

How do you get your kids excited about choosing food when they react to a trip to the market like it’s a visit to the dentist?

Why not try a game of grocery bingo? Create a colourful bingo board with pictures and names of the ingredients and get your kids to pick out the items — the first to get four in a row wins.

At dinner time, stop your kids from racing to their computer or phone by creating a competition board to see who can stay at the table the longest on most nights. More time at the table creates a double win, with research showing an extra 10 minutes at dinner may help kids eat more healthy foods.

Take them back to their veggie roots

Kids love getting in touch with nature, so learning about how foods are grown at the source is a fun way to get them interested in healthy eating.

Some schools use on-site gardens to educate kids on nutrition, but you can set up your own family excursion to a local farm or nursery.

And why not take things a step further and have your kids be in charge of their own little garden? Herbs like parsley and thyme are easy to grow and maintain in your home backyard or on the kitchen windowsill and will encourage your kids take pride in growing and eating fresh, wholesome foods.

Create a swap swatch

It is so easy to be constantly tempted by sugary and salty snacks that are within arm’s reach! But sometimes a little nudge in the right direction goes a long way.

Having a handy swatch of healthy foods and drinks you can “swap” whenever looking for a sneaky snack in the kitchen or shopping for groceries, is a great way to make healthy choices easy.

Some examples might be swapping soft drink for water or milk; a bag of chips for mixed nuts; and a bag of lollies for a goodie bag of carrot, celery and cherry tomatoes.

You can even make it colourful and crafty by getting your kids to create a board with their own drawings of the healthy foods.

Learn all about how to incorporate healthy eating and drinking into your child’s life by downloading the Little People Big Lives report.

  1. Sanitarium Health Food Company engaged an Australian market research agency, Fiftyfive5, part of Accenture Song, to design and conduct an online attitudinal survey of 508 parents of children aged 4-12 years old who live in Australia. The survey was conducted in May 2023.
  2. Bennett, C et al. 2018. Little People, Big Lives: Foundations for healthy Australian children in the 21st century. University of Notre Dame Sydney.
  3. YouGovGalaxy. Data on file. 2018.