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How can you introduce healthier foods to your toddler's diet?

Child _eating

Few things will induce parental guilt quite like food. More specifically, parents worry a lot about what their child eats — or refuses to eat— just about every day whether their child is a toddler or a tween.

Are they eating enough? Too much? Too many sweets? Not enough veggies? It’s a multi-course meal of angst for some parents. One that begins in their infant’s earliest days.

From birth and in early days, most babies avoid sour and bitter tastes. That’s why children often gravitate to sweets or fatty foods. What’s lower-than-low on their preference list? Vegetables. Thanks to their natural sweet taste, children are more inclined to like fruits when exposed to them. If your child likes staples like bananas and apples, they might also have a taste for kiwi and pears.

Strategy One: Expose children to different foods and enjoy them yourself in full view.

One way to broadening acceptance of other foods is simply exposure. Try turnips and try them again, maybe prepared a different way, if your child isn’t interested the first time they’re offered. This never-say-die attitude — coupled with a low-pressure experience — may be the ticket. If your child refuses, enjoy those turnips yourself and let your children see you revel in the experience. You might find your picky eater perks up at the thought of missing out on what Mom or Dad are digging at the dinner table.

Strategy Two: Don’t bribe a picky eater.

One strategy to avoid is bribery. Researchers point to this parenting tool as a no-no. While your child may take the bite as asked they’re only doing so to gain something better. In a competition between broccoli and brownies, there’s often going to be one winner. And it’s not the green crowns.

Strategy Three: Think when and what.

Present children healthy food options during high-demand times. Need a pre-dinner snack? Try strips of sweet peppers and dip. Your child’s hunger can work to your advantage.

Strategy Four: Twentieth time’s a charm.

When children accept new foods it’s rarely immediate. Many parents decide their child’s preferences after just a few tries. It may take 12 times before the vegetable loving light finally flicks on for good.

Learn more about nutrition at
ABC Quality is a resource for South Carolina parents. The program is administered by the Division of Early Care and Education of the SC Department of Social Services. Visit the website to learn more about childhood nutrition, brain development and more. Search for a child care provider or learn about the state’s voluntary quality rating system, ABC Quality.

ABC Quality is a resource for parents growing the next generation of South Carolinians. See how we help answer the many questions, challenges and concerns of raising children today.

By ABC Quality Team on November 8, 2016