1. Make it a family affair. Get your children involved in meal planning, shopping, and food preparation, says Morgan. When kids tag along at the grocery store and in the kitchen, it builds their curiosity about new foods — or even foods they have "hated" for years.
2. Keep it positive. Rather than battling over broccoli or beef, talk to your kids about why their bodies need the nutrients from different types of foods, says Morgan. Offer age-appropriate explanations for how food is broken down by the body to give them energy and help them grow, and how different kinds of foods have different kinds of nutrients.
3. Try, try, and try again. Children's taste buds really do develop over time. The odds are good that if you keep serving a food, your child will eventually agree to taste it. Repeated tastes (and it can take ten times or more, says Morgan) will lead to recognizing and liking the taste. Make sure that your child sees you enjoying a variety of healthy foods as well.
4. No substitutes. "The body is hardwired not to starve," says Morgan. "If your child refuses to eat a meal, it's okay. Tell them, 'This is lunch. I'm sorry you don't like it, but we're not having anything else until dinner, so if you're hungry, please eat.'" Offering substitutes leaves children with little reason to try new or unfamiliar foods — after all, would you eat carrots or broccoli if you knew you could have cheese puffs and chicken tenders for every meal?
5. Diffuse snack battles before they start. For instance, never ask a loaded question like, "What would you like for snack today?" because most children are going to respond, "Cookies!" Instead, plan ahead and offer your child a choice between two healthy items you've already selected, says Morgan. "That way, you're giving them two nourishing snack options and giving your child constructive boundaries to make a decision."
The school-work-childcare-activities run can be especially challenging when you're trying to improve eating habits. Morgan recommends moving the focus from food to fun — having a bag in the car full of non-food items to keep kids busy (coloring supplies, books, toys, etc.) can help. If you find your family is on the road during snack time, try to keep healthy snacks on hand such as dried fruit, granola, milk boxes, and water bottles. And be firm if they demand a stop at the drive through instead, says Morgan. "[I would] reply with, 'If you're truly hungry, this is a great option to fuel your body. We're not getting fast food today.'"
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To learn more about raising healthy kids, check out these resources from Amazon.com:
The Family Fitness Fun Book: Healthy Living for the Whole Family, by Rose R. Kennedy and Lori Baird