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Strategies for Raising Healthy Eaters


WebMD Feature

Here are a few thoughts from nationally known nutrition experts and our instructor Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, on how to get kids to go from picky eaters to people with sound, varied diets.

1. Avoid the Power Struggle

One of the surest ways to win the battle but lose the war is to engage in a power struggle with your child over food, says Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE, author of The Parent's Toolshop. With power struggles you are saying, "Do it because I'm the parent" and that's a rationale that won't work for long, she says. But if your child understands the why behind the rules, those values can lay the groundwork for a lifetime of sound food choices, whether you are there to enforce them or not, she says.

2. Let Kids Participate

Get a stepstool and ask your kids to lend a hand with easy tasks in the kitchen, says Sal Severe, PhD, author of How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too.

"If they participate in helping to make the meal, they are more likely to want to try it," he says.

"It's also a great way to put the ball back in the child's court when it comes to food preferences," says Pawel.

3. Don't Label

Severe reminds parents that, more often than not, kids under 5 are going to be selective eaters. "It's rare to have a child that will eat anything you put in front of them. Being selective is actually normal," Ward says. She prefers the term "limited eater" to the more negative "picky."

4. Build on the Positives

"When I sit down with parents, we'll often find that their child actually does eat two or three things from each food group," says Ward. Just as children can get great comfort out of reading the same story over and over, they also enjoy having a set of "predictable" foods.

"Even though they aren't getting a wide variety of foods, they are actually doing OK nutritionally," says Ward. When the child goes through a growth spurt and has a bigger appetite, use that opportunity to introduce new foods to their list of old standbys, she says.

5. Expose, Expose, Expose

Ward says a child needs to be exposed to a new food between 10 and 15 times before he or she will accept it. But many parents give up long before that, thinking their child just doesn't like it, she says. So even if your child only plays with the strawberry on her plate, don't give up. One day she just may surprise you by taking a bite. However, don't go overboard and try to introduce three new foods at every meal, says Severe. Limit exposure to one or two new foods a week.

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