All your kindergartener craves is mac 'n cheese with a side of chicken fingers. Nutritionist Cindy Zedeck and parent coach Thea Runyan warn that bad eating habits at a young age could lead to health problems in the years ahead.
But parents of picky eaters shouldn't give up. Zedeck and Runyan, who work with the Packard Pediatrics Weight Control Program in Stanford, Calif., have tips to broaden a child's palate:
Monkey See, Monkey Do: If kids see you try new foods or enjoy vegetables, they're more likely to try a new food.
Don't Just Cook Their Favorites: Kids tend to eat too much of the foods they like best. Even though giving in to your child's demands might get your child to eat in the short term, think about the long-term health of your child. Setting limits is important. Parents should control their child's diet when he or she is young, even if it means the child may occasionally go to sleep without dinner.
Be Persistent on New Foods: Fussy eaters may refuse new foods; in fact, they will refuse. But keep giving them options, and odds are they'll eventually fold and eat. Don't give up!
Tasting Leads to Eating: Your child might not eat full servings of a new food, but you should suggest they take three little tastes. A few bites could change their mind.
One Veggie Goes a Long Way: Sometimes parents think their children hate all vegetables, when there may actually be one they will eat. If your child likes even one or two vegetables, it's a start. If your child likes corn, give them corn, and then one day, try corn and peas together. Pairing the unfamiliar with the familiar might work.
Remove the Favorite Food: If the macaroni and cheese becomes an obsession, remove all boxes from the house. For less extreme circumstances, limit the food to a specific day: "I will be happy to give you macaroni and cheese. We will be having it for lunch on Saturday."
Plan Ahead: The more you plan ahead, the better you will eat. Fix a batch of healthy meals on Sunday, then freeze them so they'll get you through the week. That's much better than whipping up last-minute dishes with unhealthy ingredients.
Tastes Change: What your child refused at 3, they may embrace at 3½. So even Johnny, who hates broccoli, might become a convert.
Involve Kids in Cooking: They don't like burritos. They won't even try pizza. Set up a make-your-own burrito bar (using whole-wheat tortillas) or a make-your-own pizza bar. If kids are part of the process, they're more likely to consume their creation.
Easy Doesn't Mean Unhealthy: Make favorite foods by baking instead of frying. The Packard program recommends this popular substitute for chicken fingers: Marinate strips of chicken breast in 1 percent buttermilk for 20 to 30 minutes. Cover the strips in whole-wheat bread crumbs, then bake at 350 degrees for six to seven minutes per side. Kids love 'em! Parents do, too.