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Kids vs. Vegetables -- Can Parents Prevail?

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Most foods are an acquired taste, Baranowski says. "There's a good amount of neophobia, fear of new foods, in the early years. If you provide a variety of foods at different times, and insist they take just one bite, you can overcome that. There's some very nice research that shows that repeated exposure with a bite increases the likelihood that children will like the food over time, even broccoli."

Also, mom and dad need to set a good example by not shunning fruits and vegetables themselves. "Kids are bright. They're going to see the disconnect, the unwritten message that says, this stuff tastes terrible," says Baranowski.

Struggles ensue when parents are authoritarian, demanding that kids eat the green stuff on the dinner plate. "You might get them to eat it then, but when mom or dad aren't around, they won't do it because no one is insisting," says Baranowski.

"No child is going to change behavior to prevent heart attack in 30 years," he says. "Lots of adults won't even do that. Tell kids that it prevents weight gain, that nutrients are good for eyes and hair -- things that are important to kids. You need to identify things that relevant to children and emphasize them."

Among the vegetables kids like best are sweet-tasting carrots and corn; favorite fruits are apples, bananas, and oranges. "Another rising star is kiwi fruit. A fair number of kids say they like it," says Baranowski. "The nice thing about giving kids reasons is that kids tend to internalize the message. You can expect those kids to eat a healthier diet even when mom and dad aren't around."

Vital Information:

  • Before age 2, parents should not restrict the amount of fat children eat, but after that, children should get 20-30% of calories from fat and less than 10% from saturated fat.
  • Most foods are an acquired taste, so parents should provide a variety of healthy foods and try to get children to try at least one bite.
  • Parents should not demand that their children to eat healthy foods but should set a good example and teach them why different nutrients are important for development.
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