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Sunday, January 1, 2012

How Can you Get Your Child to Eat Healthy Foods?

Many parents worry about their child's eating habits. Children go through food jags, refuse foods and often reject good, healthy foods like vegetables. An interesting article appeared in our local paper with the title, "Market Veggies to Your Children" (Free Lance Star, Nov. 28, 2011). Surprisingly, the advice to get kids to eat more veggies comes from an economist, Brian Wansink, at Cornell University. Some of his suggestions include:
    Focus on the good – such as saying a vegetable is a relatives favorite. Aunt Joan just loves green beans cooked this way.
    Focus on some aspect of the vegetable: These green beans are grown in North Carolina. Have you been to North Carolina?
    Give kids a choice: do you want peas or corn with your meal? Kids then think they are the ones making the decision to eat the vegetable.
    Or focus on the health benefit of the food and give it a fun name. Mr. Wansink suggests: "X-Ray vision carrots" to focus on carrots benefit to our eyesight.
Another great source for marketing foods to kids is Dr. William Sears, M.D. and his book, The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood. He teaches kids to make good food choices by choosing "grow foods", foods that will make them grow strong, run fast. He taught his children to look for food around the perimeter of the store as that is where "grow foods" are. Or he would invoke maxims like,
"Good food makes you feel good; junk food makes you feel junky."
"Grow foods keep you well, junk food can make you sick."
So what does Dr. Sears say are "grow foods"? He defines them as fresh or packaged foods that are minimally processed foods without artificial or factory added ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.
Some other suggestions Dr. Sears makes for getting kids to eat healthy:
Model healthy eating yourself. Drink milk at meals so your child does. Eat fruits and veggies so your child will copy you.
Surround your child with healthy foods. What is in your pantry and fridge? Junk food or healthy food?
Start Early. He states that children are most likely to accept new foods between 2 and 3 years of age. So introduce young children to new foods. Don't wait "until they are older" to have good eating habits.
Keep Offering a Food: Don't give up after one try. It may take ten times before a child will accept a new food.
Two Bite Club – many students I teach, work in child care. They tell me they often use the two bite rule. Have a child take just two bites of a food. If they like the food, the child will eat more, if not, at least they tried a new food.
Involve the Child in Cooking: children who help prepare the food will be more likely to eat the food. It may be just helping to toss a salad, stir some ingredients together. If they are involved, they are more likely to try a new food.
Fun Shapes - cutting foods into fun shapes makes eating fun. In middle school a student took out their cheese sandwich that was cut into star shapes. She ate every bite. Pancakes can easily be made into rabbits or other animal shapes.
Getting children to eat and even choose healthy food options can take practice and patience but it is well worth the effort!

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