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The Informed Parent

Help Your Child Become A Good Eater

by Lori A. Livingston, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Aug. 31, 2009

All parents want their children to eat well. Most parents would agree this means eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy proteins like meats, fish, dairy foods, eggs, beans and nuts. It also usually means eating three meals per day with snacks in between.

Most experts would agree that creating a good eater starts before your baby is born. A pregnant woman who eats a variety of healthy foods and flavors is likely to have a child who will like the same foods and flavors.

All infants start eating solid foods at four-to-six months of age. They all start with healthy grains like rice cereal or oatmeal and progress to a variety of pureed vegetables, fruits and meats. Despite this healthy start, many infants become picky eaters as they grow. We all know a toddler who refuses to eat anything green, or will only eat chicken nuggets for every meal. If this describes your child, it’s not too late to change their habits!

What can a parent do to ensure their child continues to eat a variety of healthy and adventurous foods? Here are a few tips from an experienced mother, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and Parenting Magazine:

1Remember: You are NOT a short order cook.

  • If your kids don’t like what you make for dinner, it’s OK. They don’t have to eat it, BUT there isn’t anything else.
  • “Children will not become ill or suffer permanently if they refuse a meal or two” according to the AAP.
  • Certainly consider your child’s  preference when making part of a meal. But children should not be offered another meal that the rest of the family is not eating.

2.  You CAN spice things up.

  • There is no reason kids have to eat plain, unspiced food. They can eat the same flavorful dishes as an adult.
  • To ahead and add pepper, garlic, and other herbs and seasonings!
  • Be cautious about very spicy foods, and avoid cooking with lots of salt (important for the whole family!)

3. Keep serving the VEGGIES, even if your child refuses them.

  • Vegetables are typically the most difficult food group to convince toddlers, kids and adults to eat! But don’t give up so easily.
  • Most children need to try a new food up to 15 different times before they will start to like it.
  • Add flavor to veggies where you can: herbs, butter, ranch dressing dip, shredded cheese, etc.
  • Add chopped veggies to foods your kids already like such as mashed potatoes, rice, pasta sauce, soup, casseroles, etc.
  • Try putting veggies on the table first when kids are most hungry. They may eat them up before the rest of the food hits the table.

4. Eat dinner together.

  • Research shows families who eat together are healthier…in both body and mind. Kids are less likely to be overweight. They develop larger vocabularies, get better grades in school, are more confident, are happier and less likely to get into trouble.
  • Be realistic: young kids may only last 10-to-20 minutes at the dinner table.
  • Avoid distractions: turn off the TV and don’t answer the phone for this special family time.

5. Rule #1:  You have to TRY one bite.

  • Children can always eat one bite, even if they have had the food before, since their tastes may have changed.
  • Forcing your children to eat foods they don’t like will only make you and your kids miserable, and accomplish no good.
  • Praise your children for trying the food, but don’t make them something else to eat! (see Rule #1)

6. If all else fails, use bribery (within reason):

  • No dessert if you don’t eat a fair amount of dinner.
  • No second helpings of your favorite part of the meal until you try a little of everything.
  • “Since you’re not eating your chicken, mind if I give it to your brother?” or some variation of giving away their food, will often trigger a competitive urge to finish everything on their plate.
  • Be cautious about giving rewards for eating…kids will learn very fast how to manipulate parents into getting everything they want.
  • Bottom line: your children will not suffer or become ill it they refuse to eat, and they will eventually give up and eat what you give them (see Rule #1).

7.  Save room for dessert.

  • Eating healthy deserves a reward…in moderation of course. Ice cream and cookies make life a little happier for kids and adults alike!
  • Remember there are healthier options for dessert too: yogurt and fruit, low fat pudding, frozen yogurt, real fruit popsicles, etc. (be creative!)

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