Eating right starts early, and for children, taste is very important. Fortunately, taste and favorite foods are more complex than what is simply on the plate. Children are curious, playful, and watch everything you do (and eat), so take advantage of these traits to start them out eating well!
Satisfy their curiosity and appetite by having them help. The excitement and ownership of helping make the meal (even just washing the lettuce) makes a child much more likely to dig in. Give them even more ownership of the meal (or even a snack) by taking them to the grocery store and letting them pick out a new fruit or vegetable. If you're able and when the weather allows, let them get their hands dirty in a small vegetable garden. Growing their own peapods (or with help) will make them that much more proud and eager to eat their veggies.
Make their food fun! Children are playful, so while throwing food isn't a good type of play, perhaps there is a forest of broccoli and they're a brontosaurus. Arrange their food in a fun shape, such as a face or a flower. Some of the best fruits and veggies are colorful, which adds interest to the plate.
If you still have problems getting your little ones to try new foods, maybe you should try a "one bite" rule. Have them try one bite of a food, and if they don't like it, they don't have to finish it. It's important not to force your child to finish something they don't like; it'll only cause bitterness and makes them dislike the food even more. Try positive reinforcement; if they do a good job and try new foods give them a small treat (but not dessert!) such as stickers or perhaps a small toy if they've done well for a whole week.
And remember, they're always watching you and copying what they see. If your child sees you, another adult they look up to, or even an older sibling eating their vegetables, they're much more likely to give it a try. However, this goes the opposite way as well. If Dad turns his nose up at broccoli, Junior is much more likely to snub it as well.
In this country where one in three children is overweight or obese, it's important to start your child off with a taste for good, healthy food.
(Kari Riedman is a dietetic intern with Trinity Health.)