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Dear Debi,
My 4-year-old hates vegetables and fruits. I have to sit her on my lap and feed her myself. What can I do to make mealtime fun and at the same time ensure she eats proper nutrients?
Tulisa, Hawthorne, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
Host
  • Introduce healthy food early in life. Children are able to digest most foods by the age of one and will be more inclined to try new foods then.
  • If you give children a choice between two healthy items, they will most likely try the new one. By giving them a choice, you are also allowing them to feel control over their needs.
  • Get children involved in making shopping lists and cooking their food. The more involved they are, the more likely they will eat and enjoy themselves in the process.
  • Set the example. Children will model your good eating habits and attitudes towards healthy food.
Expert Advice
Linda Heller
Linda Heller
Nutritionist, L.A. Childrenís Hospital
At the age of one, kids are able to digest almost all kinds of food, thatís why it is a good age to start introducing healthy items into their diet.

Although children should never be forced to eat anything against their will, you can try to make healthy food inviting for them. Instead of giving a child a plate of veggies, for example, try putting them in soups or stews or topping them on pizzas.

Always, always give children choices. If you let them choose between two types of veggies and let them decide which to eat, they will most likely eat it, because they are making the decision, not you.

Studies have shown that it takes several exposures before a child will try a new food item. If the child refuses to eat something the first time donít force him, simply re-introduce it a few days later.

And before they say no, make sure they understand you want them to try it once again. If they try it and they donít like it, then you can move on to another healthy choice.
Child Care Provider Comments
Darlene
Darlene
Family child care provider for 4 years
I always try to make food fun and inviting for the children. I use a head of broccoli and cheese, for example, to make the face of a clown and the children love it.

I also have them plant their own fruits and vegetables as a day activity and that really gets them going. They become interested in healthy food, because they are involved in the process of planting and growing their own orchard.
Ginny
Ginny
Family child care provider for 14 years
My strategy is to give the children a new healthy food choice, as part of something I know they like. If I know a child really likes veggie chips, for example, I try to color it with some fruit and they usually eat it too. Itís all about being creative and attentive to their needs.
Yvonne
Yvonne
Family child care provider for 4 years
I had a 3-year-old who would only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. So I worked out this system where I gave her half of a sandwich with something new and healthy, and very slowly I started to add some variety in her diet. Nowadays sheís really open to a lot of different foods, but only because I started this process early in her life.

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