The Complete Guide To Clean Eating for Kids
  /   Dr. John Snow

The Complete Guide To Clean Eating for Kids

Many American households are interested in tightening up their pantries. With obesity becoming increasingly prevalent, many families are interested in easy ways to manage their health. Clean eating is a popular strategy among the wellness community. 

If you’re trying to be more mindful about what you’re serving your children, adopting a clean eating philosophy can make it easier to eliminate some less-healthy options from the dinner table. Here’s what you need to know about clean eating for kids.

What Is Clean Eating?

In many cases, “clean eating” reads like a buzzword. It’s a term often used to describe a wholesome diet, but it doesn’t seem to explain anything on the surface. Although many people use the term “clean eating” to describe various diets, most people have a consensus about what the term means.

At a minimum, clean eating means avoiding processed foods. It’s a very simple concept. When you’re eating clean, you aren’t buying pre-packaged or prepared foods. You’re buying whole ingredients and preparing each meal from scratch.

Although clean eating doesn’t necessarily mean keeping all your meals very simple, it typically works out that way. If you’re skipping processed food, fast food, and convenience food, you’re going to have to make every meal yourself. You won’t always have the time to whip up a five-star dish. 

This means that easy dishes like salads, scrambled eggs, whole-grain toast, and roasted or baked proteins easily become staples in a clean eating diet. Fruit and yogurt is an easy grab-and-go snack. 

With so many foods out of the question, clean eating makes it difficult not to reach for a healthy option.

Is Clean Eating Good?

Clean eating can be a healthy way to address your family meal plan, but it’s regarded as a fad diet. It’s challenging to sustain, and your family might face setbacks if you overcommit. 

You’ll be sharing meals and attending events with your extended family, and your kids will interact with other children. The majority of those children won’t be eating clean. If you have to prepare your own food separately to bring to events, your life will get complicated.

Instead of maintaining a rigid idea of clean eating all the time, have a flexible plan that prioritizes clean-eating recipes the overwhelming majority of the time. By still allowing your family to enjoy foods that aren’t “clean occasionally,” you’re more likely to stick to this way of eating for the long haul. 

If you have three meals a day for seven days a week, that’s 21 meals. If 17 of those meals are clean, you’re doing well. 

Why Is Clean Eating Important for Kids?

Children encounter a lot of junk food. It’s marketed to them on TV. School lunches are often problematically unbalanced. Almost everything at the grocery store marketed to kids contains a wealth of added sugar. There are several ways that clean eating can work to break that cycle.

Establishing Healthy Habits

Clean eating introduces a lot of whole ingredients to your kitchen. This gives your children a basis for what real food is. Many families are busy, which leads to a significant amount of convenience food. You don’t want that convenience food to become the new normal. 

Your children will grow up with the association that whole ingredients are nutritious. This is a habit they’ll be more likely to continue into adulthood. 

Providing Adequate Nourishment

Processed foods are often heavy on added sugar and unhealthy fats. Whole foods are more likely to provide healthy fats, and they won’t contain any added sugar. Every bite of whole food is more nutritious than a bite of processed food. 

When you cut out all the junk, there’s naturally more room for healthier nutrients. It’s a way to improve the quality of your family’s diet without much complication. Is it processed food? Just don’t buy it. Stick to fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. 

Preventing Childhood Obesity

The obesity epidemic is affecting children just as often as it affects adults. It’s possible to overeat and gain weight on any diet plan, but clean eating makes it a little more complicated. 

Whole foods are less calorically dense than processed foods. A pound of potato chips contains far more calories than a pound of broccoli. 

How Can Kids Eat Clean?

Many parents have an arbitrary idea of what qualifies as “kid food” and “adult food.” This idea stems from years of dealing with baby food and toddler food. High-quality foods for babies and toddlers are already relatively clean. A five-year-old child can eat all the same foods as adults, just in smaller portions. 

For example, you can simply feed your child a variety of clean-eating recipes that include whole grains, cereals, brown rice, carrots and hummus dip, string cheese, berries, and veggies. 

You don’t need to do anything differently to feed your child a clean diet. Unless your child has a special diet, they can and should have the same variety of foods that you have on a daily basis.. As long as they’re meeting appropriate calorie, micronutrient, and macronutrient requirements, your child will grow and thrive. 

How Do I Transition My Child To Eat Clean?

You don’t have to commit to clean eating 100% of the time. In fact, it’s probably a good idea that you don’t. If you’re very restrictive about food choices and food offerings and model that behavior for your children, they may develop an unhealthy attitude towards food. 

This can normalize restrictive food behaviors that may cause disordered eating habits to develop. Children may begin to fear foods, or they may begin to perceive “forbidden” foods as more desirable. 

You never want to teach your children that food is bad or harmful or instill an instinct to obsess over the things they eat. Instead, you should be modeling moderation and balanced choices for your children. 

Beginning Clean Eating

You can eat clean for 80% of your meals. There’s a time when family pizza night is a fun treat. Birthday cakes are an important part of growing up. There may be a day when a donut for breakfast or a burger hits the spot after soccer practice. 

The key is to make sure these are isolated moments only a couple of times throughout the week. Not a couple of processed food days, but a couple of modestly sized junk food meals placed into the context of an otherwise healthy day.

The easiest way to transition your children into clean eating is to start with clean snacks. Then, incorporate one clean meal every day. Try clean breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Make a note of what clean meals your child likes. Over time, incorporate clean meals you know your child likes into your regular rotation until most of your family’s diet is clean.

Handling Objections

If your child asks why they can’t regularly have a lot of the unhealthy foods they’re accustomed to eating, don’t say those foods are bad. Explain that you’re trying to make healthier choices. Tell your children that you want them to grow stronger and live longer, and some foods are more helpful than others. 

If they ask when they can have chicken nuggets, answer them. Tell them they can have chicken nuggets on Saturday after they’re done playing at the park, because chicken nuggets are a special occasion food instead of a normal lunch. Empower them to understand balanced choices. 

Once your children get the message, they’ll get used to it. They’ll know they can’t expect processed foods all the time, and they’ll also understand that they aren’t completely forbidden.
Getting Your Children Involved in the Kitchen

Another excellent answer to the “when can I have chicken nuggets?” question is to suggest you learn to make grilled chicken nuggets at home. You can even make your own clean simple sauces, like honey mustard. 

When you take to the kitchen and turn the food question into a project, you’re teaching your child healthy and necessary life skills. They’ll have a greater appreciation of food and for cooking. They’ll understand where their food comes from and develop their own tastes. 

Helping Picky Eaters Adapt to Clean Eating

Clean eating involves a lot of whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Picky eaters may be resistant to the idea of eating the full wealth of fruits and vegetables they need for a balanced clean diet. You can’t let your child go without the vitamins and minerals they need while they’re learning to adapt to new foods. 

Speak with your child’s pediatrician about their diet. If your pediatrician believes that your child may not be meeting their targets, use a multivitamin supplement formulated without sugar or gummy junk.

Hiya’s Kids Daily Chewable multivitamins are designed for parents who want to give their kids the best. 


Clean eating: What does that mean? | Mayo Clinic Health System

What to feed young children | NHS

Eating Disorders (for Parents) | Nemours KidsHealth