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Anyone who has experienced parenthood understands how difficult it can be to get children to eat nutritious food. Between always being in a hurry and having fast food restaurants on every corner, it’s easy to give in. However, there are ways to encourage the kids to make smart decisions–at least most of the time.

Instead of always fighting with the children, embrace a few tips to make good nutrition more fun and less stressful:

  1. Don’t fall into the “never eat that” mindset. Doing so will only frustrate you and the children. Instead, show how they should eat some foods on specific occasions. For example, if your kids love hamburgers from a fast-food restaurant, offer it as a once-a-month treat. Don’t assume your child wants French fries with his burger. Many fast-food places have other options, such as sliced fruit or vegetables.
  1. Offer a variety of nutritious options. When children feel as though they have some control over what they eat, they are more likely to make better decisions. One way is to keep crisp raw vegetables in the fridge and provide something to dip them in. Many people feel that anything tastes better when dipped in ranch dressing or yogurt. A bowl of fresh fruit on the kitchen counter or table makes nutritious snacks more readily available.
  1. Eat dinner at home as often as possible. When you cook, you have more control over the ingredients. Most restaurants focus more on flavor than nutrition, so they’re more likely to add too much salt, fat, or even sugar to foods that you can cook at home. Sitting around the table as a family enables you to learn things about each other, and you can use the time to share important facts about supplying the body with what it needs for optimum health. Have fun by saying things like, “I love how eating fish provides protein and health┬ábenefits for my heart.” Go around the table and have each person say something good about the food.
  1. Encourage the children to participate in meal preparation. When the child is little, let her help find items, and when it’s time to prepare the meals, measure ingredients that she can toss into the bowl. As she grows up, get her more involved in the full process, including the meal planning, writing the shopping list, preparation, and plating the food. Allow her to have some input by giving her choices of which vegetable she wants to serve with the chicken.
  1. Don’t put anything off limits. If you’re trying to get your family to cut back on sugar, offer dessert once in a while, so they don’t feel deprived. Have plenty of delicious non-sugary snacks, such as popcorn, nuts, and other foods to munch on between meals. When it’s time to eat a sweet dessert, serve a small portion that can be savored rather than huge slices of pie or triple scoops of ice cream.
  1. Start a small garden with your children. If you have enough sunny space in your yard, you can have a variety of vegetables that are easy to grow, such as tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, and green beans. If all you have is a small porch or balcony, try some container gardening with smaller varieties of tomatoes and some herbs. When children participate in gardening, they are more likely to want to eat the fruits of their labor.

One of your jobs as a parent is to help your children grow into the best adults they can be. Since good health is essential in all aspects of life, starting them out with good eating habits will serve them well as they grow and mature.