Sep. 25th, 2009

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By Jennifer Gruenemay, Special to Lifescript
Published September 25, 2009


1. Deferring authority.

“Don’t ask your child what he’d like to eat,” Dietz advises. They’ll say “gummy worms” or “ice cream.”
Instead, tell them what’s on the menu and that there will be no substitutions.

2. Offering too many choices.

Making hot dogs for one kid, mac ‘n’ cheese for another and a “grown-up” meal for Mom and Dad will drive a home cook crazy.
“Parents shouldn’t be running short-order restaurants,” Cooper says. Plan one menu for the entire family.
But ask your children for their opinion. Broccoli or green beans? Or serve them both.
“Offering two or three choices of a fruit or vegetable encourages kids to try at least one of them,” says Baby Bistro author Schmidt.

3. Not setting limits.

The worst thing for a child is not knowing the limits or having ones that constantly change, Dietz says.
Every kid needs boundaries, so stand your ground when it comes to what your child eats. If on Monday you proclaim “no fast food,” don’t go to Burger King on Friday. It sends mixed messages and kids quickly pick up on that ambiguity.
Also, don’t set limits you can’t — and shouldn't — keep, like banning all foods with sugar. There’s just no way around a little sweet stuff in a kid’s life — and there shouldn’t have to be.
Experts agree: “Everything in moderation.”

4. Underestimating kids’ willingness to eat an assortment.

“One mistake parents make is not exposing [their kids] to a wide variety of foods and flavors from an early age,” Tringali Piho says.
Start small and build on each success. Forgo the white-bread PB&J; offer up cucumber and hummus on whole wheat instead. Your kid’s taste buds might surprise you both.
Also, make learning about new chow a game. Let your children discover a new food – through books, the Internet or from friends. Then help them prepare it.
“Kids love to be hands-on with everything they’re learning,” Schmidt says. The more they’re involved, the more likely they are to eat happily.


5. Worrying they’ll go to bed hungry.

Hunger can be a persuasive learning tool. Next time your children refuse to eat what you’ve prepared, tell them: “The choices are to eat it now, later or nothing at all,” Schmidt says.
“Unless children learn that they’ll be hungry if they don't eat, they won't learn to eat what’s offered,” Dietz says.
If your children push away the food, be matter-of-fact about it, he says. Simply put the plate aside, so they can eat it later.
This may be harder on parents. It’s never fun to watch your children cry and scream. And you don’t want them to go to bed hungry.

6. Making excuses for their eating habits.

“If kids are labeled as picky, they’ll act that way,” Schmidt says.
Instead, be persistent. Offer up the despised foods as many times and in as many forms as possible. Broccoli hater? Try it steamed, roasted, baked in a quiche, chopped up with a low-fat dip or served with veggie sticks.

7. Worrying that they’re not eating enough.

When a child has consumed only three graham crackers all day, it can drive a parent to force them to eat.
The strategy will backfire, Dietz says.
“There’s no quicker way to get a child not to eat than by forcing him or her to eat,” he says.
Even if your child has barely touched food all day, don’t worry.
“Children regulate their nutrition intake surprisingly well,” Schmidt says.
They learn to recognize their natural hunger and satiety cues. “Forcing them to eat destroys these healthy instincts.”
Children go through natural periods of eating very little or eating more than you’d expect. It’s normal and linked to their growth cycles. But if you’re concerned, talk to your pediatrician about whether a multivitamin will provide the nutrition they need.

8. Always disguising healthy foods.

Would you recognize zucchini if it showed up only in muffins or cookies? Sneaking extra veggies into prepared products isn’t bad, but it’s important to offer them in their natural state too.
“If we keep those green veggies under wraps all the time, children will never choose them in their true [form],” Schmidt says.
Get to the root of the situation – literally.
“If we want to change children’s relationship to food, we have to get kids involved in cooking, gardening and grocery shopping," Cooper says.
Grow veggies in a garden pot or plot. Or go to a nearby you-pick-it farm. When children see where food comes from and help get it from farm to table, they’ll appreciate it more.
It helps instill a sense of ownership in what they’re eating – “I picked that strawberry!” or “I grew that tomato!”


9. Offering rewards or bribes for eating.

Bribery is another trick nearly every parent uses – but shouldn’t.
“Don’t reward children for eating foods they don’t like by giving them junk foods,” Dietz says. That means not dishing out ice cream because they’ve finished the spinach.
Sure, you’re enticing kids to eat the good stuff, but it will just make mealtime more difficult for you. Before long, they’ll be bribing you with, “I’ll only eat it if I can have a sno-cone!”

10. Giving up too soon.

“Parents need to repeatedly introduce new food before accepting that their child doesn’t like it,” Dietz says.
A scrunched-up face or barfing noise doesn’t mean game over.
“It takes eight to 15 times for a child to accept a new food,” Schmidt says.
Most parents give up after two or three tries.
Vary your approach and be creative with presentation, Schmidt suggests. Cut foods into fun shapes (like zucchini stars), make mini versions of their favorites or call foods by nicknames.


Finally, don’t expect good eating habits to be a piece of cake.
“‘Success’ is not defined as ‘no conflict,’” Tringali Piho says. “No one ever said it will be easy!”

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