Jeanne Muchnick, a New York mother also known as America’s Dinner Mom, offers the following advice to get your family eating healthier.
* Turn off the television while you eat.
* Start a “talk about it bowl,” where you put items – anything from a magazine article to a recipe to a book – in a large container in the middle of the table and then pick from the container for a starter on what to discuss.
* Make meals fun and social. Start early and sit and eat with them so your toddlers begin learning that meals mean talking and sharing with friends and family as much as eating.
* Serve a variety of foods and encourage your young ones to try new things. At the first sign of finicky behavior, explain to your child that it is not healthy to eat the same foods all the time.
* Include your kids, even at the toddler stage, in every aspect of eating, from shopping to recipe planning to cooking and serving. Children are more likely to eat something they have been involved with. Kids love growing things, so take a page from First Lady Michelle Obama and start a vegetable garden, or at the least, grow some herbs on your windowsill.
* Let kids feed themselves and make a mess.
* Roll it, dip it, dunk it. Toddlers are all about the sensory experience. Let them use their fingers to grab and touch, dipping carrots into yogurt, slices of chicken into applesauce, even chunks of fruit into hummus or peanut butter.
* Make food fun, not only by dressing up sandwiches with shapes and faces (and using cookie cutter shapes), but by mixing up the containers you serve them in. Try yogurt in an ice cream bowl (with a cone on top) or applesauce and pudding in muffin containers.
* Don’t force your child to eat, and don’t put too much on her plate. Ideally, she should eat a portion that’s the size of her fist.
* Give gentle praise for good eating, but don’t overdo it.
* Encourage kids to invite friends over. Children are more willing to try new foods their friends eat and also tend to talk more at dinnertime.
* Be a good role model. Children mimic your behavior – so don’t forget your veggies!
Also see: How to Stop Mealtime Tantrums