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How to Turn Your Kid Into a Person Who Likes Food

It's not always easy, but with these clever and practical tips, you might have some luck convincing your kids to eat their vegetables and try new things.

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Growing Good Eaters

Getting kids to become good eaters is a noble and ardently sought-after goal for many parents. We want them to want to try new things, to share in the pleasure we get from different foods and cuisines and dining experiences. We want them to grow up big and strong, to be able to go to a friend’s house and dig into whatever is being served. We want to wean them off the children’s menu and find life beyond chicken nuggets and buttered pasta.

Parenting in general comes with few guarantees, and searching for the holy grail to get our kids to become “good eaters” is no exception. The good eater/picky eater pendulum may swing back and forth quite a bit along the way. But while you are waiting for your child to order the ceviche, here are a few nuggets of advice to play around with.

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Give Them Choices

In the market, let kids pick out the fruit they want in their lunchbox and the vegetables they want in the stir-fry. At home, let them decide if the simmering tomato sauce needs more oregano or basil, or if it’s good as it is. Let them pick out what they want to fill their lunch wrap. Let them flip through a cookbook and decide on a dinner for the week. Whatever you can do to give them power and choice will help invest them in the meal.

Elizabeth Fassberg, owner of EAT FOOD, a food and nutrition consultancy in NYC, says, “As a mom and a dietitian, I’ve tried to make food a fun part of our lives. I’ve never forced my almost 8-year-old son to eat anything — even when at age 3 he stopped liking many foods. I didn’t cave and feed him boxed chicken nuggets because I was worried he would starve. Instead, I continued to prepare different foods and let him try what looked and smelled appealing to him. Because of that, he’s back to eating more foods than many adults. Exposure is key, and so are games; when I make a sauce or something in the blender, I always ask him to taste and guess what’s in it.”

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Serve Colorful Fruits and Vegetables as Snacks

When my kids were little, and even now that they are big, I often put out a bowl of sliced apples, or a pile of Clementine oranges, or some sliced bell peppers and carrots, while they are watching TV, doing homework, hanging with friends. And they usually get completely devoured. If I asked, “Who wants some bell peppers?” I would probably get a shrug or a no, and it might remind them that there is a drawer of tortilla chips and pretzels. But when the fruit or vegetables appear magically by their side, they get eaten.

Try out these tips from Robert Schueller, the Produce Guru of Melissa’s Produce:  “To introduce color, buy a variety of produce at the supermarket or farmers’ market. Color adds interest and encourages your kids to try new things, like red, yellow and orange peppers; green and purple cauliflower; purple, orange and yellow carrots. Also, bring home the new — let them try fruits and veggies that aren’t ordinarily served at home, like tropical fruits for instance, such as dragon fruit, papaya, or how about a coconut?”

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Eat Together as Often as You Can

There are so many reasons why family dinners are important, but in terms of getting your kids to become good eaters, sharing a moussaka or a pork roast or tacos starts to connect good food with togetherness. Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen says: “I think the only actual weapon at our disposal is to offer a wide variety of things, whatever we want to eat ourselves, and not skipping a recipe because we fear the kids won't like it. Some kids won't eat what we're making either way, but at least we didn't suffer without the, say, bo ssam or chicken tikka masala we were craving, in a failed attempt to get the kid to eat.”

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