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Head Off Picky Eating

It's true: Some kids appear to live on nothing but chicken nuggets and jelly sandwiches. How can you raise your child to be a better eater?

Take advantage of a dietary window of opportunity that opens between roughly 12 and 21 months, says Susan Roberts, Ph.D., coauthor of Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health. That's when many toddlers will try a variety of foods, since they instinctively put everything in their mouth and they love to imitate whatever they see their parents doing.

Some kids will still go through a picky-eating stage in another year or two, but those who chow down on unusual offerings like hummus and squash now are more likely to go back to them later on. To make the most of this:

  • Try to introduce a new food every three or four days, then serve it often (once a week is ideal) so that it becomes familiar to your child.

  • Offer a wide variety of tastes, textures, and colors: thin strips of crunchy carrots, bright red bell peppers, and sweet pears.

  • Include grown-up selections like fish (without bones), salads, beans, stir-fried vegetables, and mildly spiced foods. (Just be sure to cut up or avoid those that he could choke on, such as whole grapes, peanuts, hot dogs, and popcorn.)

  • Prepare basics in different ways. If your child is a fan of mashed potatoes, introduce boiled potatoes, home fries, and potato salad too.

  • Allow him to feed himself and eat as much or as little as he wants, to avoid power struggles.

  • Don't make a big deal out of refusals. You may have to serve something 15 times before he decides it's yummy.
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