1. Do as I do. Parents are the best role models for young children. Leave chips and soda on grocery store shelves. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables with your kids.
2. Serve fruit and veggies again…and again. Be patient. It may take up to 15 times for kids to be ready to try foods you eat. Let children see the same foods in various forms over time. Emphasize “trying” new foods without pressuring kids to “like” new foods.
3. Change-O, Presto! Kids are more comfortable trying new foods if they watch them transform. Let children help you prepare foods. They can press a blender start button, add ingredients to a crock-pot, or spoon dressing onto a salad. When kids feel invested in a meal, they are more likely to try healthy foods. Assign each child a job, like washing produce, stirring a pot, or setting a table.
4. Play with your food. Children will try more fruits and veggies if they can touch with their hands. Smelling and licking are also natural behaviors for young children as they experiment. It may not be how you were raised, but encourage kids to play with their food!
5. Slow down, please. Some children eat slower than others or need more time to get used to new foods. Never rush children through meals using threats or rewards. Try to make time in your day to relax during meals.
6. Reward in creative ways. Food is an essential need, not a special treat. Avoid using food to reward your child. Motivate kids with activities, like a trip to the park or an extra book before bed time. For treats from the store, try a new box of crayons or a simple craft.
7. Sneak food talk into daily routines. Point out healthy foods in the grocery store or in grandma’s garden. Make up games that include healthy foods. “Let’s pretend we are squirrels eating yummy peaches off this tree,” or, “Let’s pretend to open a restaurant. Are you cooking any vegetables today, chef?” Avoid stating preferences for unhealthy food, for instance, “I can’t wait for the birthday cake this afternoon!”
8. Allow kids to decide if and how much to eat. A parents job is to serve a variety of healthy foods. The child’s job is to decide if and how much to eat. Asking children to “clean their plates” or to “make happy plates” teaches them to eat when they are not hungry.
9. Use the cookie jar for carrot sticks. When children get hungry they ask for foods they can see. Put junky foods out of sight. Instead, place fruits and veggies within easy reach, for instance on a low coffee table or on your lowest refrigerator shelf.
10. Watch out for trickster foods! Some junk foods lure parents with labels that say, “Fruit and Veggie Flavored.” Foods like fruit gummies, fruit punch, or veggie-flavored chips often contain lots of sugar, fat, and salt. Read food labels before you buy. If a fruit or veggie isn’t first or second on the ingredient list, opt for a different food. Fresh, frozen, or canned veggies in whole form are best.