Obesity, which can lead to myriad health issues, has been one of the most problematic health issues for children across the globe.

According to the World Health Organization, 39 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese in 2020. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that obesity prevalence in the United States was 13.4% among 2- to 5-year-olds in 2018.

However, if started early, your kids can learn healthy eating habits that can stay with them for life.

Childhood is a critical period for eating behavior development. You can make nutritious decision with just a few changes.

Here are some ways to create healthy eating habits for children ages 2 through 8.

The most effective way to begin a healthy diet is repeated exposure to nutritious foods. Studies have found that children might have to eat something 10-15 times before they even know if they like it.

You might have to start small when introducing new foods to your child's diet. Even just a few bites of something might get them interested. Eating a new food with something children are familiar with could increase the likelihood that they will regularly eat the healthy food. Pair it with something healthy you know they enjoy, such as dips, dressings or seasonings.

Be wary of highly processed foods as they can contain high amounts of sugar, trans fat, sodium and refined starch, and they may be low in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Studies have shown 70% of food in meals taken to school from home was highly processed.

Make it fun.

Engaging youth in the meal prep process provides opportunities for them to explore the food and it provides some great family time as well. Improving their comfort and familiarity with the food can be an important step to making it a regular staple of their diet.

Offer a limited amount of healthy snacks in small portions. Keep healthy foods within easy reach.

Also, remember snacks are not meals and should not be served as meal replacements. Think of the size of snack-size storage bags compared to other sizes of storage bags.

Remember, younger children's stomachs are smaller, so they will get full on smaller portions than older children.

Cut vegetables and place in the refrigerator or on the counter where your children can easily access them. The opposite goes for unhealthy and processed foods. It is best if they are out of reach and not as accessible.

Remember, children will mirror their parents' habits. It is important that they see you eating healthy as well.

Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability.

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