Improving children’s confidence to eat healthy

Improving children’s confidence to eat healthy

The Issue

Students come to the classroom with beliefs about the benefits of eating healthy and self-confidence to eat healthy. Children who believe that healthy foods will make them stronger or feel better are likely to eat more healthy food options. Also, children who are more confident in their ability to make healthy food choices are likely to have more nutritious dietary intake. However, it has not been clear whether beliefs or self-confidence is more important for programs to target in order to increase children’s healthy eating.


Our longitudinal analysis published in the internationally renowned peer-reviewed journal Appetite revealed that it may be more important to focus on building our children’s confidence to eat healthy. When children increased their confidence to eat healthily, we observed a subsequent increase in their positive beliefs. However, the reverse was not true. Students who first increased their beliefs in the benefits of healthy eating did not see improved confidence as a result. The data for this study came from our Shaping Up My Choices program for third-graders.


Because time is limited for teaching our children about nutrition in our classrooms, our study reveals that it may be a better use of educational resources to focus primarily on building students’ confidence, also called self-efficacy, to eat healthy. Positive nutrition beliefs are still important, as children who don’t believe there is much benefit to healthy eating are still unlikely to eat healthily. However, confidence appears to be more important, because improved confidence also directly improves children’s positive beliefs towards healthy eating.

What does this mean for parents and teachers?

Teachers and parents can improve children’s confidence to eat healthy foods in several ways.

  • Make sure children know what is and is not healthy eating
  • Teach children effective strategies for eating healthily, such as setting daily goals, making sure to eat at least one healthy food at every meal, and monitoring the healthy and unhealthy foods they eat
  • Make healthy foods easily accessible so that children know where to find them. Parents can pack healthy foods in school lunches, and both parents and teachers can encourage schools to implement healthy food policies
  • Limit temptations of unhealthy food by reducing children’s accessibility to them. Set rules for children to ask for unhealthy foods instead of getting them on their own
  • Be effective Role Models! It helps children’s confidence when they see others do it too
  • Praise children for their healthy eating, and regularly remind them how good they are at it


Larsen AL, McArdle JJ, Robertson T, Dunton GF. Nutrition Self-Efficacy is Unidirectionally Related to Outcome Expectations in Children. Appetite. January, 2015:166-170.