EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — Getting kids to choose healthy foods instead of junk food can seem like an uphill battle for some parents, but switching to a healthy diet can have a positive effect on their overall well-being.

Whether they’re toddlers or teens, children develop a natural preference for the foods they enjoy the most.

To encourage healthy eating habits, the challenge is to make nutritious choices appealing.

Foods that are high in fat and convenience, and low in cost and nutrition are popular go-to’s but best to avoid, according to dietitians.

This group of teens from the Lackawanna 4H club are busy at Vintage Kitchen in Scranton cooking a meal together; on the menu, chicken and rice.

At each station, the group is learning about proper culinary sanitation methods, how to cut meat, and follow a recipe.

16-year-old Ayla Holgate of Lackawanna 4H has been cooking since she was nine.

“I love being creative in the kitchen, cooking new things. It’s a great way to explore different cultures,” said Holgate.

Overseeing this cooking class is Sandi Graham, owner of Vintage Kitchen. She says the sooner you motivate kids to test their culinary skills, the easier it is to get them to experiment with different foods.

“When kids cook they try new things, they have a more varied diet, they tend to like the things they cook better than when someone else cooks it,” said Graham.

Cari Snyder is a registered dietitian and says eating well-balanced meals supports your child’s healthy growth and development, and she adds, maintaining a healthy diet does not have to be expensive or lack taste.

“You can get frozen vegetables from the dollar store that have the same nutritional value as a fresh vegetable, adding sea salt, olive oil. It really changes the flavor and accents the natural flavors,” said Snyder.

Kids aren’t born with a craving for burgers and french fries and a dislike for Brussels sprouts and peas, but the more they are exposed to junk food the less they’ll most likely choose healthier options.

That’s why it’s important for parents to introduce kids to a variety of foods.

“There are 30-minute meals that are good for you. It’s really easy to eat healthy if you try,” said Snyder.

You can try making nutritious foods appealing. For instance, pair peanut butter and celery, apples and caramel, or carrots and hummus.

One way to maintain a healthy lifestyle is to keep healthy items on hand and to keep tempting items out of the house.

In addition to healthy snacks, health experts recommend eating more whole foods and less processed foods.

  • Be a role model. If kids see parents eating an apple rather than chips, they may emulate that behavior.
  • Add vegetables to stews, soups, and casseroles. Cook more meals at home, and get kids involved in food shopping and meal planning.

All those tips can help your child develop a healthy relationship with food that will last a lifetime.

While you can’t eliminate junk food entirely, you can choose alternatives such as baked fries, instead of fried, grilled or baked chicken instead of deep fried, sorbet or yogurt instead of ice cream, or home-baked goods with less sugar rather than store-bought doughnuts and pastries.