Encouraging healthy eating habits can seem daunting, particularly if your child is a picky eater. However, research indicates that it’s possible to positively change a child’s eating habits by consistently exposing them to a variety of foods. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it can take up to 10-15 exposures to a new food before a child might accept it. Additionally, a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that parental influence plays a significant role in shaping children’s eating behaviors. Interestingly, day camp provides a unique opportunity for picky eaters break free from their limited exploration of food. Surrounded by a diverse group of peers enjoying a variety of foods, children naturally become more open to trying new things. As they observe their fellow campers munching on different snacks and lunches, curiosity often takes hold, sparking a newfound willingness to step outside their comfort zone. By witnessing their peers enjoyment of a diverse array of lunches, over the course of the summer, many picky eaters will feel begin to feel more comfortable exploring new additions to their own lunchbox.

The Importance of Healthy Eating for Kids

Healthy eating is crucial for children’s growth, development, and overall well-being. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), proper nutrition helps children grow, develop strong bones, stay healthy, and perform well in school and physical activities. Conversely, poor eating habits can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems. Given that childhood obesity affects about 19.3% of children and adolescents in the U.S. (CDC), fostering healthy eating habits is more important than ever.

  • Fruit and Vegetable Consumption: Only 9% of children in the U.S. consume the recommended daily amount of vegetables, and only 12% meet the recommended intake for fruit (CDC).
  • Processed Foods: The average child in the U.S. gets about 40% of their daily calories from added sugars and solid fats (U.S. Department of Agriculture).
  • Picky Eating: Studies show that between 20% and 50% of children are considered picky eaters at some point during their childhood (Journal of the American Dietetic Association).

Encouraging Healthy Eating During the Summer

  1. Involve Your Child in Lunch Preparation

Involving children in the lunch preparation process can make them more interested in eating what’s packed. Allow your child to choose from healthy options and help with simple tasks like washing fruits and vegetables or assembling sandwiches.

Children who participate in meal preparation are more likely to try new foods and develop healthier eating habits (Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior).

  1. Pack a Variety of Nutrient-Dense Foods

Ensure that each lunch includes a balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. A colorful and varied lunch can be more appealing to children and provide essential nutrients.

Example Lunch:

  • Fruit: Sliced apples or a small container of mixed berries.
  • Vegetable: Carrot sticks or cherry tomatoes with a small container of hummus.
  • Whole Grain: A whole grain wrap or sandwich with lean turkey and cheese.
  • Protein: Hard-boiled eggs or a small container of greek yogurt.
  • Healthy Fat: Avocado slices.
  1. Make Healthy Foods Fun and Attractive

Children are more likely to eat foods that look fun and appealing. Use cookie cutters to create fun shapes with sandwiches or fruits, and consider bento-style lunch boxes that separate different foods into compartments.

Visual appeal can significantly influence children’s willingness to try new foods and maintain interest in their meals (Appetite Journal).

  1. Include Hydration Options

Staying hydrated is essential, especially during hot summer days at camp. Encourage water consumption by including a refillable water bottle in your child’s lunch bag. Avoid sugary drinks and opt for water.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children aged 1-3 years drink about 4 cups of water per day, increasing with age (

  1. Limit Processed and Sugary Foods

While it’s tempting to include pre-packaged snacks for convenience, many of these items are high in added sugars and unhealthy fats. Instead, opt for healthier snacks like air-popped popcorn, whole-grain crackers, or homemade trail mix.

Reducing added sugar intake can help prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay in children (American Heart Association).

Encouraging Picky Eaters to Try New Foods

  1. Introduce New Foods Gradually

If your child is a picky eater, introduce new foods one at a time and pair them with familiar favorites. Encourage your child to take a small bite to try the new food without pressure.

  1. Be a Role Model

Children often mimic their parents’ eating habits. Demonstrate healthy eating by incorporating a variety of nutritious foods into your own diet and sharing meals as a family.

  1. Positive Reinforcement

Praise your child for trying new foods, even if they don’t like them right away. Positive reinforcement can build confidence and encourage repeated attempts.

Chartwell Happy Day Camp: Promoting Healthy Lifestyles

At Chartwell Happy Day Camp, we understand the importance of healthy eating and strive to support parents in fostering these habits. Our staff is available to help ensure that all campers have a safe and enjoyable experience, including support for dietary needs and preferences.

By involving children in meal preparation, packing a variety of nutrient-dense foods, and making lunches fun and appealing, parents can help their kids develop a lifelong appreciation for healthy eating. Start planning now and ensure your child has a delicious and nutritious summer at Chartwell!

Enroll today at Chartwell Happy Day Camp and give your child the gift of a healthy, active summer.