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10 ways to raise a good eater

Your kids want dessert and candy. You want protein and vegetables. Bring them over to your side with a proactive approach to healthy eating.

By Chelsea Dolan

10 ways to raise a good eater

Photo: iStockphoto

1. Get them cooking

Kids who lend a hand in the kitchen learn invaluable skills and are more likely to try meals they've helped create. (It never hurts to teach them the skills of washing dishes, either.)

2. Creativity sells

Show your kid there's more than one way to serve most foods. If they don't like sweet potato mash, encourage them to try sweet potato fries instead (or any of these crowd-pleasing sweet potato recipes!). If they won't eat an apple, make it more interesting by slicing it up and dipping it in peanut butter.

3. Use the 80/20 rule

Tell your kids that if they make nutritious choices 80 percent of the time, the remaining 20 percent can be for treats, like sweets or fast food. This shows them the occasional indulgence won't hurt, as long as they're making healthier choices overall.

4. Avoid food rewards

If you give your kid a cookie for good behaviour—or to cheer them up after a hard day—they'll start to associate food with praise or emotions rather than hunger. Instead, reward them with hugs, kind words or stickers.

5. Tune in to hunger

When your kid says they're hungry, they might just be bored or craving sweets. You don't want to label those things as bad, but it can help to understand the difference between a rumbly tummy and the desire for a pick-me-up. Brainstorm other ways to deal with the boredom or cravings.

6. Don't trick them

It can be tempting to hide veggies in your kid's meals. But even though they are eating those secret carrots, they aren't learning to eat actual carrots, one of the keys to lifelong healthy eating.

7. Serve family style

Instead of dishing out a serving for your kid, leave dinner on the table in platters and bowls, allowing them to build their own plate. Avoid the temptation to correct how much food your kid is taking—they'll figure it out after a while.

8. Don't put dessert on a pedestal

It's oh-so-tempting to use dessert as a motivator for eating healthy foods, but saying things like "eat your broccoli or you won't get cake" tells your kid broccoli is bad but they will be rewarded with something good for eating it.

9. Snacks vs. treats

Explain to your kids that snacks are meant to be mini meals made up of whole foods like fruit, nuts and whole grains (not added sugar) to give them energy between meals. Save treats for special occasions, like movie night or visits with the grandparents.

10. Model proper eating habits

Your kid is watching you, so make sure they see you eating vegetables, not skipping breakfast, and even enjoying an occasional treat. When you normalize a healthy diet, it becomes their norm too.