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Persuading Kids to Eat Nutritious Meals

It's a familiar family scene: Mom and Dad cajoling their youngsters at the dinner table: "Eat your vegetables."

The National Cancer Institute says that only one child out of five eats enough fruits or vegetables to satisfy the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which recommends five or more servings per day. And nearly one-fourth of the vegetables eaten by children are french fries.

What can you do? Kids won't eat vegetables just because they're good for them. And threats and bribes won't persuade them either, say nutritionists.

One idea is to think from a child's perspective. For instance, have you noticed that children's noses are a little closer to the plate than yours? Some cooked vegetables are just too strong-smelling for children.

Variety is best

A solution might be to offer a variety of raw or still-crunchy cooked vegetables and let your kids choose what they want.

If you've tried this and it hasn't worked, try it again. Kids need lots of encouragement. If your child refuses vegetables, try not to make a big deal out of it. Just continue to provide opportunities to try a variety vegetables.

Here's another strategy that works for some families: the "two-bite" approach. Insist that your children take at least two bites of a new food. But also try to keep their tastes in mind when you decide which vegetables to serve.

And if they still refuse, don't be tempted to force your children to eat their vegetables. In fact, many adults report that they won't eat some vegetables just because they were required to do so as a child.

No bribery

Another tactic to avoid is bribery. Children who are given sweets if they eat their vegetables merely learn to want the sweets more. The broccoli becomes less desirable; it becomes something that kids feel they must endure to get what they want.

If your children eat a variety of fruits, keep the fruits coming, while encouraging them to eat a variety of vegetables. Good fruit choices include those high in vitamins, such as vitamin A found in cantaloupe, apricots and peaches, and vitamin C found in kiwi.

But whatever strategy they use, parents should play it cool. Avoid food battles with children--they will always win. And only a bad food relationship is established with your children over food.

Here are some other suggestions on how to encourage your kids to develop a taste for vegetables:

  • Set a good example: Eat your vegetables.

  • Offer vegetables routinely as snacks and in lunch boxes, and cut them into shapes your child prefers.

  • Provide low-fat sauces for dipping. Low-fat salad dressings--even ketchup--make vegetables more palatable to children.

  • Involve children in meal planning and preparation. Let them shop with you and help you make the salad.

  • Better yet, grow a vegetable garden and have your children involved in planning, planting, and harvesting the foods.