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Does your picky eater get the nutrients he needs?

6 ways to get your kids to eat healthy

6 ways to get your kids to eat healthy
These kids love showing off their delicious and fresh produce finds at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. Add some colorful foods to make plates pretty and bellies happy.

Meal time is a struggle. Parents look for budget-friendly foods that satisfy their picky eater and provide them with nutrients.

How can parents get their children to eat food that is good for them, without a fight?

An active relationship with food

Dr. Padma Garvey, a fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, says if she could suggest only one change to how people approach their diets, it would be to "stop buying processed food." Even if it's mac and cheese or cookies, she suggests making it from scratch.

When you see what goes into the final product, it's a wake-up call, Garvey explains. "You see the amount of sugar and butter that goes into the recipe - and maybe you think, I can cut that sugar in half. It helps you have a more active relationship with your food."

Too many of us "have a relationship with food that someone else made for us." says the doctor, who is also a mom from Hopewell Junction.

READ MORE: Raise your child with a healthy body image

Encourage kids to get involved

Dawn Boyes, Monticello mom of four, says, "I had the stress where my child went on a week-long binge of wanting nothing but peanut butter and jelly. I think it's normal and think growing bodies are an amazing thing." Parents have so much to worry about as it is, the perfect meal shouldn't be on that list, Boyes says. "Lead by example. Keep offering the options."

"If they don't like it, ask them what they think it needs. Let them blend spices, add a bit of herbs, sprinkle a little sauce. Give them the encouragement they need to make good choices."

Add color to their lunch box

"I noticed everything they were eating was white," says Diana Buonocore, mom and member of the Central Hudson PTA.

Now, she puts "a rainbow in their lunch box." Raspberries, broccoli and sweet potatoes bring color to their plates. Buonocore gradually made changes to what her children liked, re-working favorites into healthier fare. For instance, she still serves chicken fingers - now made using almond flour and cooked in coconut oil.

"I know what is going in the food and that's the most important thing." 

READ MORE: Lunchbox tips for busy parents

Make the process fun

"Focus on the joy and excitement of good food," insists education director at Poughkeepsie Farm Project, Jamie Levato.

"What we've found over the years is that what really makes a difference is having a positive outside experience with food - planting, taking care of plants, harvesting and cooking - being part of the process."

Love healthy food, don’t hide it

Levato's approach doesn't focus on "kids' foods" or "hiding foods." Instead, her approach is to get kids to love healthy food because it's delicious.

She says, "When kids go out in the fields and pick, they taste as they go and get excited as they try new flavors."

"Model the behavior you'd like to see in your child," Levato says, "Your joy and excitement will come through to your children."

Be patient, don’t force it

Sonia McGowan is a mom and a nutrition educator with the Cornell University Cooperative Extension Hudson Valley Region Eat Smart New York program.

"It is not helpful to force children to eat especially when introducing a new food. Instead, present the food and let them pick or serve themselves."

She says it's fine to sneak vegetables into foods such as smoothies, or cut them into small pieces in a stew.  

READ MORE: What is a superfood?

"Give snacks fun names such as ants on a log - celery spread with peanut butter and topped with raisins - to entice children to try new food," says Ethan Shafran, a Cornell nutrition educator with a focus on youth.

Senior nutritionist with the Cornell program, Steven Alihonou says, "Picky eating, and food refusal are common. Don't stress too much unless it is negatively affecting their health."

Provide a variety of wholesome, nutrient dense foods, and snacks. Alihonou says, "Remember to be patient and creative. Provide an opportunity for kids to be part of the planning process. Make mealtime a positive experience for the entire family.

Olivia L. Lawrence, a writer and editor, loves to be outside whenever possible.