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Teach children to enjoy healthy food

For many parents, getting children to try new foods can feel like a struggle. Research has suggested some strategies that may help increase food acceptance, as well as some techniques to avoid.

  • Emphasize the food's taste, not its health. Studies have shown that children will eat less of a food when they've been told how healthy it is, or that it is good for them. Instead of focusing on the vitamins and minerals in the food, tell your child it tastes delicious, or emphasize one taste aspect of it - sweet, crunchy, crispy, etc. Overselling the health benefit of one food will likely not lead children to eating more of it.
  • Offer the foods to them, but don't force them to try it. Children are more likely to try foods if they are continuously exposed to them, especially if they see you trying and enjoying them. Bribing children to try new foods, on the other hand, may result in a long term dislike for the foods or they may view eating healthy foods as something they need to do to get a reward, like a cookie or a special privilege. They may not try it the first or second time, but studies show that long term, repeated exposure is the best tactic to lead children to more food acceptance.
  • Get kids involved in meal planning. Make family meals a group effort, and try new things. Set a special day of the week ("Try-it Tuesdays", for example) when a new ingredient is used in a recipe - it could be a fruit, vegetable, or any food. Alternate who gets to decide the food for the week. Take a family trip to the store to pick out what you need for the recipe, and give everyone a job in the kitchen during preparation. When the family routinely tries new things together, it fosters an environment of acceptance.
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