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Young children have always been finicky eaters. As if that's not bad enough, now you also need to worry about junk food, fast food, trans fats and bad cholesterol. Then again, if you're too controlling, you can set the stage for an eating disorder. What's a modern mom to do? Do your best to make '- and teach '- healthy choices from the beginning. Armed with a little information on what makes for a healthy diet and some guidelines on how to encourage your child to eat properly, you can make the most of this habit-forming stage.
Give 'Em What They Want -- within Reason
First, your child will want to emulate you, so serve as a role model by eating healthily yourself. Toddlers and young children, in general, learn by copying, but also by testing limits. They are nonetheless wary of anything new. Kids accept new foods gradually and may try things 20 times before they do. The stages of "conquering" a new food can include getting it on their plate, putting it into their mouth and then finally getting them to swallow it. Be happy with each success. Studies have shown that you should not reward children for trying foods, because it backfires. Avoid overpraising, and instead say something like "I'm glad you tried that."
There are important reasons for not using rewards, bribes or punishments to get your child to eat. Doing so will teach her to ignore her own internal cues, which can lead to overeating or dislike of certain foods. She will come to expect more and greater rewards for eating what she otherwise wouldn't choose.
Moms and dads should not become short-order cooks, but instead should present healthy choices and let their child decide what she'd like to eat. Make mealtimes relaxed and pleasant and you'll avoid prolonging them with battles over food.
Look Out for Hidden Extras
As your child makes the transition to solid foods, begin to read labels. Look for hidden ingredients, such as added sugar or salt, which can even turn up in some baby foods.
Children like plain foods best. As your child makes the transition to table foods, don't add salt when cooking and allow the natural flavors of food to come through. Flavoring for children one year old and older can include lemon or lime juice, or spices such as nutmeg or cinnamon. You can even put a tiny sprinkle of sugar over food, instead of using butter.
Serve nutritious foods in a variety of textures and tastes. And be sure to introduce foods even if you personally do not like them.
If your child always wants the same thing, allow her to eat it, but offer other foods as well. Remember that this will pass. Kids tend to listen to their internal cues better than adults do, so avoid pressuring your child.