Getting your fussy toddler to eat (yuck!) healthy foods

When our children are infants, we offer them vegetables and fruit of all colors and they gladly eat them. Then they become toddlers, and they shake their heads, close their eyes and utter a resounding No! when presented with cauliflower.

Meanwhile, 17 percent of U.S. children are obese, and childhood obesity rates tripled from 1980 to 2008. Parents need to act now to get their young children eating foods that are low in calories and sugar and rich in vitamins, fiber and protein.

Help them make good choices

As a mom, I know how difficult it can be to teach your little ones to choose nutritious foods. But its important to avoid power struggles around food. You can lead a toddler to eggplant, but you can’t make her eat it. Instead, focus on helping children get in the habit of making good choices.

Start with reasonable expectations. When I talk to parents, I talk about weekly vegetable intake, not daily. Start with a small serving of the vegetable so it’s not overwhelming. This helps take the pressure off. With time, you can increase the serving size and number of servings.

Camouflaging veggies is also very effective. Two of my favorite tricks are loading pasta sauces with chopped vegetables and making things like zucchini bread. These strategies will help expand your childs palate and taste for new textures.

Are you eating your veggies?

The best way to ensure healthy eating habits in children is to lead by example. Let them watch you enjoy healthy food. Family meals are a wonderful time to show your children the healthy choices you would like them to make.

Of course, some children hit mealtime spoiling for a fight. Try a preemptive strike: From time to time, allow your child to choose whats for dinner. Take him to the supermarket with you and engage him in meal preparation. He will feel more in control, making him less likely to try to express his power at the table.

Make summer active & healthy

When school lets out, keeping your kids active and eating right falls to you. Some ideas for encouraging good summer choices:

Grow and harvest. Have your youngsters help you plant and tend a home garden, or take them to a farm and teach them to pick berries or vegetables. When they learn where good food comes from, they may be more interested in trying it.

Go fishing.Teaching kids how to catch, clean and cook fish is a great way to get them hooked on this great-for-you source of lean protein.

Chase ’em outside.Put away the video games and schedule outdoor activities every day: swimming, miniature golf, playground time and bike riding, for starters.

Alanna Levine, M.D., is a New York-based pediatrician and mother of two.