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Teaching Kids to Eat Well

Use National Nutrition Month in March to educate children about how to take care of their growing bodies.

Peter Bernard

HealthKey.com contributor

March 8, 2010

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March is National Nutrition Month, and for some parents, getting their children to eat healthy, nutritious foods can seem like an endless battle.

Parents have tried myriad tricks to get nutrition into their kid's daily diet, from hiding vegetables in foods they like to eat, to withholding privileges for not finishing dinner. But it doesn't have to be this way, according to experts at the American Dietetic Association. During National Nutrition Month and beyond, there are things you can do to help your children eat right.

The ADA and mealsmatter.org offer these tips to help raise a healthy eater:

Make Family Mealtimes a Priority

Sometimes a very simple act can have important, long-lasting benefits. According to parenting and health experts, that is exactly the case with family meal times. Eating and talking together helps foster family unity, prevent behavior problems at home and school, enhance academic success, improve nutrition and promote healthy weight for kids.

With that impressive list of benefits, it's worth making the time and effort to enjoy more family meal times each week. Look for easy ways to add just one family meal to the schedule. If evenings seem too hectic for family dinners, set aside time for a weekend breakfast or lunch. After a month or two of this new pattern, you can add another family meal each week. Before you know it, you will be eating together on most days.

Be Flexible About Food

Being overly restrictive about junk food can lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with food. Also, if it seems that a picky eater isn't open to new choices, be persistent. You may have to offer a food 10-15 times before it's accepted. Try to add just one new food to a meal with three or so healthy foods your child already enjoys. Eventually your child will begin to accept new foods - don't give up.

Get Kids Involved in Nutrition

This one is fun for everyone and it can happen anywhere-your kitchen, the grocery store or a community garden. Every trip through the supermarket can be a nutrition lesson. Kids can learn to categorize food into groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, milk foods and meat/beans. They can choose new foods that they want to try, like picking out a new fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruit each trip. As children get older, they can help plan the menu at home and then pick out the foods to match the menu items while shopping.

Nutrition is just one of many reasons to have a garden. The process of planting, watching over and harvesting a garden provides daily opportunities for children to learn valuable lessons and enjoy physical activity, while reaping the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor.

Get Active

Children should be active at play for at least 1-2 hours each day. Consider options like a simple outing to the park to play or more organized classes or age-appropriate sports. And don't forget to limit TV time for young childrenÂ…that's a healthy habit you'll want to establish early.

Be a Good Role Model

Eat regular meals based on nutrient-rich foods like low-fat or fat-free dairy products, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Your child watches what you eat, so make sure you're a good example of healthy choices yourself.

For more nutrition tips and ideas, go to The American Dietetic Association or HealthKey.com's Nutrition Center.