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10 Best Ways to Feed Your Baby

Jon Whittle

6 Keep her close in the kitchen If you've ever felt guilty for parking your baby in an exersaucer while you made dinner, hear this: It may make her a better eater. She sees your relationship with food; she smells the garlic roasting, the soup simmering, which helps build that familiarity with foods. Get your child involved in cooking early. Put your 6-month-old in her highchair and pull her safely up to the counter while you blend her purées, suggests Tracy. (Of course, be sure that knife used to chop the food is put away.) By 18 months, many kids can help scoop flour, spin-dry lettuce or stir ingredients in a bowl. Jane Hahn of Newton, Massachusetts, began engaging her daughter in food prep when she was about a year and a half. (Her first project involved pouring and stirring ingredients for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.) Now at 4, she helps make dinner almost every night: washing veggies, tossing them with olive oil, mixing sauces. "I truly believe that because she helps to prepare the food, my daughter loves broccoli and Brussels sprouts, and I don't have to smother them in cheese," says Hahn.

7 Sit down together Bringing your baby to the dinner table allows him to see you enjoying food. Plus, research links regular family meals with a slew of benefits for kids, including higher self-esteem and better academic performance. If eating together Monday through Friday is impossible, do it on the weekends. If you are tired of cooking, order in or eat out. "Taking babies to restaurants teaches them early on that food is special," says Ansel. It provides other benefits too. "On weekends, I'd rather spend time playing than prepping and cooking dinner," says Holly Tedesco, a Forest Hills, New York, mom of a 2-year-old son and newborn daughter. "We have great, kid-friendly restaurants in our neighborhood, and we love exposing our son to foods from around the world. He learns how to make small talk with us while we wait for our meals and gets tons of interaction with the staff. Now he's the one who says ‘check please!'"

8 Be a supermodel Research shows clearly that when it comes to encouraging your child to eat something, it's what you do—not what you say—that matters. So what if you are a picky eater? Don't call attention to it, advises Ansel: "If you hate cooked v egetables, serve salad. Or offer colorful pepper slices with hummus or guacamole. Dip cherry tomatoes in low-fat ranch dressing, then slice baby off a bite. Your child will see you eating vegetables happily." Cara Lee, a mother of two in Westerville, Ohio, has found that steaming up a second side is a good way to expose her young boys to vegetables that aren't her favorites. "When we have a veggie that I don't love, like peas, I'll make a second one, like broccoli, so they still see me eating vegetables," Lee says. While serving up these tricks, work on your own eating habits so you can be a better role model. If you've avoided a food that you dislike for years, give it another shot. "You may find you've developed a taste for it," says Melinda Johnson R.D., a national spokesperson for the ADA in Chandler, Arizona. "Taste buds mellow with age."

9 Make meals enticing When you're dealing with a "discriminating" toddler, it's tempting to push her to eat some broccoli or even to bribe her with dessert. Instead, encourage her to eat things by making them look delicious—and fun. Serve foods in colorful bowls. Offer dips—try hummus, yogurt and cottage cheese. Make faces on pancakes and sandwiches with cut-up fruits and vegetables. "Even a bagel with low-fat cream cheese can be made fun with a few blueberries for eyes and a mouth," says Amy Bevan, a mother of two in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Present foods in forms that are easy for your child to pick up and eat. "Letting our girls feed themselves made them feel like they had a choice on what they were eating because they got to pick what they wanted to eat first," says Kristie Vota, mother of two in Richmond, Virginia. "They liked that."

10 Relax So what if your neighbor's toddler eats sushi? This is not a competition. "All kids are different, and that includes their taste preferences," notes Johnson. Luke Boger, a father of two in Warren, Pennsylvania, knows this firsthand. "We've had way better luck with our son eating whatever is in front of him than we had with his older sister, and we've taken the same approach with both," says Boger. "She is just more stubborn when it comes to food and, quite frankly, doesn't care as much about it." Besides, whether or not your kid takes a bite of broccoli tonight does not matter. "Raising good eaters takes years: 10, 12, 15," says Ansel, noting that her 16-year-old is just beginning to embrace some of the healthy foods she's been serving her since she was a toddler. "It's an ongoing situation that's constantly evolving. But if you are always having the right attitude and putting the right foods on the table, he'll come around eventually."