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Getting Kids to Eat Healthy Foods

By Lisa Pecos

According to the USDA, kids between the ages of 9 and 13 require at least six servings of fruits and vegetables per day, with each serving being either a half cup of fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables or a medium-sized fruit. Kids between 4 and 8 need about five servings per day, while teenagers need the recommended amount for adults-seven or eight servings per day.

For many parents, getting a 9-year-old child to eat six servings of fruits and vegetables may seem like an impossible task. Kids love sweets, and they have little patience for foods that do not have much flavor. When was the last time you saw a child having a tantrum at the store because his mom refused to buy him broccoli? From the very early ages to the teenage years, getting kids to eat well is a never-ending battle. The good news is that it is not a lost cause, and if you use smart practices in the home, you can get your child to eat healthy foods. Here are some ideas to keep in mind.

Get an early start: A 2008 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that infants who are breastfed by mothers who regularly eat green beans are more likely to accept and enjoy the flavor of green beans when compared with infants of mothers who did not eat beans. Meanwhile, other research has indicated that children, from infants on up, can learn to like the flavors when given repeated opportunities to try them.

One of the problems with older children is that it can be more difficult for them to accept vegetables if they were not exposed to them at an early age. But with persistence, even kids unaccustomed to vegetables can come to enjoy them with repetition.

Eliminate unhealthy snacks: Too many parents fill their cupboards with sweet and unhealthy treats, and many kids become used to having these treats multiple times per day. When these delicious sweets are available, it is only natural for a child to reject more healthy types of snacks. But you can nip this problem in the bud simply by having no candy or snack cakes in the home.

Eat as a family: If you want your child to eat healthy, you have to be willing to practice what you preach. Kids are much less likely to willingly eat their broccoli or carrots if they see that their parents do not eat these things themselves. Make sure everyone in the family eats the same thing, and be sure to express how delicious and well-made the vegetables are. Sometimes all kids need is a little mental suggestion, and they will come around.

Get kids involved: Many kids love to be given opportunities to show that they can make grownup decisions and be responsible. By giving your child a chance to participate in the grocery-buying decisions, you will give her a greater emotional investment in the meals. Explain the importance of having vegetables with every meal, and then allow her to plan a meal that includes foods from all the categories of the food pyramid. You will still control the details of the actual meal, but she will get extra enjoyment from it once it is done.

Learn and talk about nutrition together: Parents need to know their stuff if they really want to set a positive example and raise nutrition-conscious children. Educate yourself as much as possible about nutrition, and pass your knowledge to your children whenever you get a chance. This way, your kids will come to understand that eating well has its own rewards.

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