You are the most important influence on your child, and you can do many things to help your children develop healthy eating habits for life.
Start by offering a variety of foods to help children get the nutrients they need from every food group. Plus, they also will be more likely to try new foods and to like more foods when they are used to a variety.
Show by example. Eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains with meals or as snacks. Let your child see that you like to munch on raw vegetables.
Go food shopping together. Grocery shopping can teach your child about food and nutrition. Discuss where fruits, vegetables, grains, milk and meats come from. Play fun and educational games in the grocery store. Encourage your children to read and compare food labels and help you make healthy choices.
Get creative in the kitchen. Cut food into fun shapes with cookie cutters.
Name a food your child helps make. Serve "Logan's Salad" or "Logan's Cowboy Vegetable Soup" for dinner. Encourage your child to invent new snacks. Make your own trail mixes from dry whole-grain, low-sugar cereal and dried fruit.
Offer the same foods for everyone. Stop being a "short-order cook" by making different dishes to please children. It's easier to plan family meals when everyone eats the same foods.
Reward with attention, not food. Show your love with hugs and kisses. Comfort with hugs and talks. Choose not to offer sweets as rewards. It lets your child think sweets or dessert foods are better than other foods. When meals are not eaten, kids do not need "extras" — such as candy or cookies — as replacement foods.
Focus on one another at the table. Talk about fun and happy things at mealtime. Turn off the television and take phone calls later. Try to make meals a stress-free time.
Listen to your child. If your child says he or she is hungry, offer a small, healthy snack — even if it is not a scheduled time to eat.
Offer choices. Ask "Which would you like for dinner: broccoli or cauliflower?" instead of "Do you want broccoli for dinner?"
Limit screen time. Allow no more than two hours of TV a day, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Get up and move during commercials.
Encourage physical activity. Make physical activity fun for the whole family. Involve your children in the planning. Walk, run, and play with your child — instead of sitting on the sidelines. Set an example by being physically active and using safety gear, like bike helmets.
Be a good food role model. Try new foods yourself. Describe their taste, texture and smell.
Offer one new food at a time. Serve something your child likes along with the new food. Offer new foods at the beginning of a meal, when your child is very hungry.
Avoid lecturing or forcing your child to eat.
Source: MyPyramid.gov, USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.