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Getting Kids to Eat Right: Green Ketchup and Other Tricks

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"Appropriateness" is important to kids, she also learned. "Kids love chocolate, but they also know you don't eat chips with chocolate."

She challenges parents: "Experiment at home ... develop a flavor that your kid likes ... a dip or a sauce. Of course, dousing your kids' broccoli with ketchup isn't going to work, but you can find something else that does."

In terms of matching texture and major ingredient -- sour cream -- her test was within the culture's general culinary rules, says Pliner. "Ketchup-flavored chips are found on supermarket shelves, and honey (combined with garlic) is a common flavoring used with fried savory foods such as chicken wings and nuggets," she writes.

With all the picante sauce consumed these days, Karen Cullen, DRPH, RD, professor with the Children's Nutritional Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, doesn't doubt that a ketchupy dip was popular in Pliner's study.

"The idea of dips is a good one," she tells WebMD. "The most important thing is low fat. There are fat-free mayos and sour creams that are pretty decent, if you add herbs for extra flavoring. And keep foods simple. Kids like to be able to identify their food. They like single food items, finger foods, crunchy foods, pretty-colored foods. Fresh broccoli sure looks a lot better than broccoli that's been cooked 45 minutes."

She also advises parents to be more relaxed. "Some people think that if your child won't eat broccoli, you shouldn't serve broccoli. That's not right ... [but] a child doesn't have to eat broccoli to be healthy."

Other tips for getting kids to eat right: Don't try bribing, Cullen advises. "It doesn't increase their liking for that food. In fact, it often decreases their liking for the food. You're trying reverse psychology but the kid is reversing it on you. It makes them eat the nasty food so they get desert, but it doesn't make them like the nasty food."

"We need to allow children to self-regulate," Cullen tells WebMD. "If they say they're not hungry, we have to respect that. That's fine. Tell them the next mealtime is at such-and-such a time. That they don't get down from the table and expect another meal in 15 minutes. That's a game. Why force a child to eat when they're not hungry; you can get them into some really bad habits."

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