Want to help your fifth-grader develop healthy eating habits? Here are some tips from experts.
Encourage your child to get involved in meal planning and preparation. For example, have them decide the ingredients in a salad and make it their responsibility from the grocery store to the dinner table.
Help your child listen to their body during meal time by removing distractions. That means no texting, no TV, no computer, or other gadgets at the table. This will help them identify when they're full and when they would like more.
Stocking the kitchen
Keep items in your kitchen healthy. If you buy chips or cookies, your child will eat them. While they're helping themselves to snacks in the kitchen, making a healthy choice is easy if it's the only choice your child has.
Teach your child about the importance of a well-balanced meal. Have their demonstrate that knowledge by packing their own lunch, or occasionally planning the family dinner. Make sure they have half the plate filled with fruits and vegetables.
Try fruit pizza for a fun and healthy treat. Let your child and their siblings or friends assemble the snack. Use whole wheat baked crust, low-fat cream cheese or Greek yogurt, and top with kiwi, strawberries, banana, and blueberries. You could add a small amount of honey to sweeten.
Bring your child to a farmer’s market, or produce section of the supermarket, and have their pick out a vegetable your child hasn’t tried before. You can find a recipe and prepare the new vegetable together.
If your child has siblings, try an at-home cooking competition. Give each child the same vegetables and ask them to prepare them for the family to taste test. A friendly competition can get everyone thinking about new ways to eat vegetables.
Add vegetables to soups and pasta sauces. Even if you don’t make your own soup or sauces, some added vegetables to low-sodium broth can increase your child’s vegetable intake.
Have an at-home salad bar for dinner. Finely chop a variety of vegetables and let your child add their own toppings. Some children don’t love lettuce, but once it’s chopped with a lot of other vegetables, even fruits and nuts, it can be more appealing.
Beans & lentils
Serve vegetables that are high in iron and protein for your fifth-grader to support their growth. Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are all good options.
Keep fruits available and easily accessible to help your child choose fruits as a healthy snack. A fruit bowl on the counter with bananas, apples, and oranges is one good option. Or cut up fruits and place them in plastic bags in the refrigerator for easy access.
Fruit at breakfast
Try to incorporate a serving of fruit to your child’s breakfast. A whole piece of fruit or sliced fruit in yogurt or cereal is a good option. Apples and bananas are good options for children who are on-the go. They can be easily packed, or eaten in the car or on the bus on the way to school.
Try doing a small science experiment with your child. Choose different fruits and have your child guess which ones will dehydrate faster. Use a food dehydrator or oven to bake the fruits. Then see if they were right.
Prunes & raisins
Try adding fruits with iron such as prunes and raisins to your fifth-grader’s diet to increase their iron intake.
To increase whole grains and experiment with new grains, cook brown rice with quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). Add black beans, greens, and salsa for a healthy dinner bowl.
Offer only whole grain cereal at breakfast. It’s is a good way to increase your child’s whole grain intake if she’s a fan of cereal in the morning. Check the label to make sure the main ingredient is whole grains. Add chopped fruits or dried fruits for sweetness instead of buying sugary cereals.
Oatmeal is a great way to increase whole grain consumption for your child. Two-ingredient oatmeal cookies are a healthy treat your child can make herself. Simply mix two mashed bananas with one cup of oatmeal, form into cookies and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
Swap in Greek yogurt for other yogurt. Greek yogurt has more protein than traditional yogurts. It can also be more tart. Add a touch of honey or fresh fruit if you child is used to a sweeter yogurt. You can also add Greek yogurt to a smoothie to increase protein.
In addition to being a whole grain, quinoa is also high in protein. Trying recipes with quinoa or replacing rice in recipes with quinoa is a great way to add whole grains and more protein.
Try substituting fish for beef in your family’s tacos. Popular for years in California, the fish taco is a great way to increase your child’s healthy protein intake. Tilapia or mahi mahi, which are white and flaky fish, are good options for a taco.
For on-the-go kids, low-fat string cheese is a good snack. It can be packed for lunch, or grabbed as a quick snack.
Use yogurt-based dips for vegetables as a healthy alternative to higher-calorie dressings or sour cream-based dips.
Oils & trans fats
Stay away from harmful trans fats. If you see the words “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list, this means there is trans fat in the product, even if the front of the label says “0 trans fats.”
Oils & vegetable oils
Try cooking with vegetable oils instead of butter or margarine. It’s an easy substitution to make, and you’re swapping in healthier fats.
Oils & flax meal
Add ground flax meal to breads, pancakes, or waffles. You can even sprinkle ground flax onto cereals for added healthy fats.
Try to make as many meals at home as possible, and encourage your child to choose fresh, healthy foods when they're not with you. Your child may be eating more away from home at this age, which can mean their intake of sodium is going up.
Instead of relying of packaged energy bars, which can be packed with added sodium and added sugars, put nuts and dried fruits in a baggie for a healthier on-the-go energy snack.
Always pick a low-sodium option when available. This can be in pre-packaged foods at the grocery store, or even when you’re out to eat at a restaurant.
Teach your child about moderation, that your child can have treats their friends may be having every now and then, but not every day. Your child is likely very influenced by their peers at this age, and may want to follow their unhealthy eating habits.
Re-usable water bottles
If you can, buy your child a re-usable water bottle to pack in their lunch and carry at school and to after-school activities. If they have water handy, your child may be less likely to choose soda or sports drinks to quench their thirst.
To learn more about nutrition for your child, check out our fifth grade nutrition guide page.
Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Wanda Koszewski, Associate Professor and Department Chair for Human Nutrition, Winthrop University; Manuel Villacorta, Author, Speaker and Registered Dietitian, Whole Body Reboot; and Dr. Natasha Burgert, Pediatrician, Pediatric Associates.