You are here

How to Raise a Healthy Eater

Eat together

You've heard it before; we'll say it again. Research shows that families who have meals together at least once a day eat more nutritiously than those who don't. Yet only about 50 percent of school-age kids have one meal daily with their parents. Strapped for time, or don't like to cook? Serve takeout like rotisserie chicken or a veggie pizza, or a combination of frozen food (like lasagna) with fresh food (a salad). Have clashing schedules? The meal needn't be dinner  -- breakfast or lunch works just as well. The point is to gather together, talk, and share your love for good food  -- and for one another.

Don't always take "no" for an answer
If at first your child won't touch a "yucky" food, try again. And again. It can take as many as ten exposures before your little one develops a taste for it. The more pressured he feels, the less likely he is to eat, says Birch, so don't push. Just put the food on the table and let him decide if he wants to try it.

Also smart: Start early. Ideally, you should introduce as many new foods as you can to your child before he's 2. After that, kids resist new flavors more. But even then, once the food's no longer new  -- once they've seen it, smelled it, and touched it a few times  -- they'll be more willing to try it.

Admittedly, at some point you may have to accept that your child doesn't like, say, brussels sprouts. If it's something you'd really like to see him eat, wait a year. By school age, kids are often more willing to try different foods again and may even develop a taste for them.

"We have a 'No, thank you' rule," says Katrina Nash of Plano, Texas, mom of Ben, 10, and Ryan, 6. "They need to try at least one bite of everything, but once they've tried it they can say, 'No, thank you,' and they don't have to eat any more of it. We say, 'Well, maybe your taste buds aren't old enough for that food yet.' That leaves the door open to trying the food again another time, when we can say, 'Let's see if your taste buds are old enough for it now.'"

When all else fails, take out the saltshaker
Or try a spoonful of sugar, a pat of butter, or some low-fat cheese. A study at the University of Michigan found that up to 25 percent of people are "supertasters." They're hypersensitive to compounds in broccoli, raw cabbage, spinach, and a few other vegetables that make them taste bitter. If your child turns up her nose at such foods, you might try neutralizing the bitterness with a sprinkle of salt, a tiny dash of sugar, a little maple syrup, or something creamy, such as melted cheese on top. My son Michael just doesn't like cooked vegetables. But if I offer him a plate of fat-free ranch dip surrounded by raw carrots and cucumbers in the late afternoon, when he's really hungry, he'll eat it all before dinner. He'll even eat salad, if he can put the same ranch dressing on it. You can try this for foods with unfamiliar textures, too.