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How to Raise a Healthy Eater

Keep it out of the house

If you really don't want your child to eat something, don't buy it. Kids will desire a food more strongly if it's around but they aren't allowed to have it. If they're not exposed to the food in the first place, though, they won't miss it.

Sherry Huhn Gotzler of Madison, Wisconsin, mom of Ella, 3, and Jane, 19 months, says this tactic has worked for her. "When Ella says, 'I want a cookie,' I'll say, 'Okay, let's make some.' This way I can make them more nutritious. We like to bake peanut butter cookies rather than chocolate chip, for example. For breakfast, if she wants a sweet cereal, I'll add a handful of raisins to some shredded wheat we have in the house. Or we'll cook oatmeal and add a little brown sugar  -- much less than the amount in the instant varieties."

Serve meals family style
You won't be shirking your mom duties by not loading your child's plate for him. It's actually smart to let him serve himself at the table starting at about age 3. (Always offer at least one thing you know he'll eat, as well as a new food or two.) A child's more likely to eat a variety of foods when they're offered this way. And when a younger child sees older siblings and parents eating from many choices, he's more likely to try the foods, too.

Serving himself also helps a child learn to control portions, which is especially important if he's 5 or older. Birch's research has found that when 3-year-olds are given large amounts of food, they tend to stop eating when they're full. But 5-year-olds who are served mammoth portions tend to eat more than they would otherwise. (The same is true for adults.) "As kids get older, they become more responsive to outside cues and less to internal cues in determining how much to eat," says Birch. With portion sizes creeping up at restaurants and in prepackaged foods, that's a setup for obesity. Letting your child serve himself gives him control. You're in charge of offering him food, but he should decide how much he's going to eat. (If he's too young to serve himself, provide small portions and let him ask for more if he wants it.)

Involve your kids
Your mealtimes will go more smoothly if you get your child in on the action. Let him help select the food, but rather than ask, "What vegetable shall we have tonight?" ask "Should we have green beans or broccoli?" You'll give him a choice without giving him full rein.

Share kitchen duty, too. He may not eat green peppers when you stick them on his plate, but if you put them out with some other veggies as toppings for him to add to a homemade pizza, he may be more willing to try them. Karen Postal of Plymouth, Michigan, has found that Madison, 5, and Carlie, 3, love to play sous-chef. "They each have their own vegetable brush and help me scrub the produce we use in our juicer," she says. "They take turns adding carrots, apples, whatever the recipe calls for, and then we'll pour the juice into fun cups with wraparound straws."
Kaleo Waxman of Menlo Park, California, has assigned salad duty to her 5-year-old, Morgan. "Each evening he tears the lettuce and measures out the oil and vinegar for the dressing."

As moms, we usually end up taking on the role of family chef and nutritionist. But this needn't involve meticulously measuring vitamin intakes or checking off daily food groups. Whether it's eating dinner together or asking your child to help with lunch prep, even the simple things can make a big difference.