RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
A positive approach is also what nutrition experts suggest in getting your kids to eat a healthy diet. As NPR's Patti Neighmond reports, that's not what lots of parents are doing.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Maybe your dinner table conversation with the kids sometimes sounds like this.
JESSICA LEICHSENRING: And some vegetables.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I don't like...
LEICHSENRING: Or you don't...
LEICHSENRING: ...or you don't get dessert.
NEIGHMOND: That's Mom, Jessica Leichsenring, who lives in Wisconsin. She appeared in an earlier story we did about family dinners. And the things she's saying to her kids are what many parents across the country are saying to theirs.
In our poll, nearly half say they set rules on what type of foods kids can eat.
LEICHSENRING: Eat your dinner and drink your milk, please.
CHILD: I don't like milk.
LEICHSENRING: Well, you still need to drink a little bit of it.
NEIGHMOND: Well-intentioned advice but does it work? Kelly Brownell, who directs the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University says no.
DR. KELLY BROWNELL: By demanding that children eat things like vegetables before they have a dessert, it makes it seem like there's something wrong with eating vegetables and you have to swallow your medicine before you get to the good part.
NEIGHMOND: And another typical dinnertime rule, eat everything on your plate. In our poll, many parents say that's exactly what they tell their children. But that can backfire.
Kristi King is a registered dietitian and spokesperson with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
KRISTI KING: Some of the studies have shown us that when they are put in a situation where somebody is saying finish this or finish that, the kids actually had more negative responses and actually consumed less of the food than the kids who didn't have that reinforcement of - you need to finish.
NEIGHMOND: The better option: creative negotiation. Take what King calls Try It Tuesdays.
KING: So that would be little kids, teenagers, school-age children helping the parents pick a new food or a vegetable and that everybody tries it together.
NEIGHMOND: And maybe, if you let your children choose and even help prepare the food, the more likely they are to try it. If they still say no, King suggests No Thank You Bites, something her friends made up for their three-year-old daughter.
KING: She has to take a bite and say no thank you before she can, you know, just not eat it at all.
NEIGHMOND: And more often than not, there's an unexpected reward.
KING: As she sits there and watches me and her mom and her dad eat that food, you see her little hand reach across over to the fork and it kind of goes over into the vegetable and then the next thing you know you turn around and she's eaten the entire vegetable.
NEIGHMOND: And it turns out that like most other behaviors, your kids are watching you.
KING: I had a parent who came into clinic not too long ago and I said, OK well, what's our goal for being here today? And he looked at me and said, make him eat vegetables; and my question back was, well, do you eat vegetables? And his answer was, no. I don't like them.
NEIGHMOND: They talked. Turned out Dad loved grilling. King suggested he start grilling vegetables. By their next visit he'd become an avid veggie griller.
KING: Oh, he was grilling zucchini and squash and carrots and onions and tomatoes, and you name it, he was grilling it.
NEIGHMOND: A dietitian's dream - getting an entire family involved in eating more healthy foods. As for dessert, well, Yale University's Kelly Brownell says there's nothing wrong with an occasional treat.
BROWNELL: But that doesn't mean that the only options for dessert are things high in sugar, or fat, or salt. There can be wonderful combinations of things like sorbet, sherbet, fruits, things like that, that can make outstanding desserts and be really good for people.
NEIGHMOND: Some parents worry that having only healthy foods at home will lead kids to overdo it with junk food when they head off to college. But Brownell says there's no evidence to support this worry. Even if kids indulge in unhealthy foods at first, they're far more likely to return to the healthy foods they grew up with.
BROWNELL: Having only good foods around the house makes all the sense in the world and research supports this, and then kids will eat the healthy foods.
NEIGHMOND: So, Brownell says, fill your kitchen with healthy food. Don't buy junk food. And watch what you eat. Your kids will follow your lead.
Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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