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How to help girls eat healthier

Hungry for more?

Explore the BodyWorks program, which teaches parents and caregivers how to help teens stay a healthy weight. Find quick healthy eating and exercise tips at letsmove.gov. And you and the girls you care about can also look together at lots more info on food — from allergies to vegetarianism — in the Nutrition section of girlshealth.gov.

You can do a lot to help a girl in your life eat well and stay healthy. Keep a key point in mind: Family really matters. Girls are more likely to succeed at eating healthy if the whole family is doing it. Plan ahead, and make changes slowly to ensure success. Here are some more tips:

  • Try to promote a healthy attitude toward food. Food is fuel for our bodies, and it certainly can bring us pleasure. Food isn’t really a reward, though. And selections should be balanced. If one meal has a lot of fat, for example, it’s a good idea to cut back on fat at the next meal. Less-healthy foods are best kept as occasional treats.
  • Be smart about school lunch. You can:
    • Go over the school menu the night before to suggest healthy choices.
    • Pack lunch together, since kids are more likely to eat what they help pick.
    • Sprinkle in some fun, such as using a cookie cutter to make sandwich shapes.
    • Talk to your school about offering healthy options, like a salad bar and easy access to water. Learn more about working with your school.
    • Check out more tips for making healthy school lunches that get high marks.
  • Turn off the TV. TV can distract you from focusing on your food. And TV ads often draw kids to less-healthy options. Instead, try to turn mealtime into family time. Research suggests that eating as a family helps kids eat healthier.
  • Ask girls to help with shopping and cooking. Getting involved helps girls learn what is healthy and may make them more likely to try something new. Check out some simple recipes for girls to try.
  • Don’t give up when you eat out. Try to:
    • Suggest ordering baked foods instead of fried.
    • Get salad dressings and sauces on the side.
    • Remember that just because something is on the kids’ menu does not mean it is healthy for kids.
    • Visit our healthy eating-out tips with the girl in your life.
  • Offer healthy snacks. Leave a bowl of fruit around so girls can help themselves, for example. Check out these smarter snack ideas and choose which ones to have around the house together.
  • Swap out sugary items. Offer cereal with fruit instead of sweetened cereals. Offer water or low-fat milk instead of sugary drinks like sodas and fruit drinks.
  • Teach girls how to read labels. Check out the Nutrition Facts label tool from girlshealth.gov. Help girls understand that “portion distortion can lead to eating more than is healthy.
  • Cook with healthier fats. Try choosing unsaturated fats like canola oil instead of less healthy ones like butter. You can start with some heart-healthy recipes for the whole family.
  • Explain the idea of empty calories.  Some foods add a lot to our calories but add little or nothing to our health — and might even hurt it with things like too much sugar. These foods include sugary sodas, candy, ice cream, and cookies, and are best kept to a minimum.

 

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Money matters

You may be concerned that eating healthy food is expensive. Here are some ways you can save money and still eat healthy:

  • Try clipping coupons. You can look for them in the newspaper or online.
  • Buy in bulk. For example, you can buy a big bag of baby carrots and then make your own separate little bags from it.
  • Go meatless. Beans are a great source of protein and don’t cost much.
  • Try frozen or canned fruits and veggies. They last longer than fresh produce.

Do you need help paying for food? Read about government food programs, such as free school lunches and nutrition assistance for women and children. Do you need health insurance? Learn about current options and the Health Insurance Marketplace at healthcare.gov.

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Content last reviewed November 05, 2013
Page last updated February 18, 2014

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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