1. Model healthy eating habits. “If you eat a variety of whole foods, your children are likely to do so as well,” says Debra Boutin, MS, RD, of Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington.
2. Shop around. At least once a month, take the kids to the grocery store and empower them to make selections, within your guidelines.
3. Involve children in meal preparation. Children can help with washing greens (“Children love salad spinners,” says Boutin), cutting vegetables, or setting the table.
4. Grow a home garden. Even if you don’t have grounds for a large garden, a porch planter or an assortment of pots with vegetables and herbs can inspire children and help them understand where food comes from.
5. Encourage exploration. “If a child wants last night’s leftovers because that’s what sounds good to them, that’s OK,” says Boutin. As long as the child is eating a balanced diet, let kids experiment. “This doesn’t mean you should be a short-order cook for your child,” she says, “but some flexibility is positive.”
6. Serve child-size portions at appropriate intervals. For children younger than 5, an appropriate serving size would be 1 tablespoon per food item for every year of age (for example, 2 tablespoons for a 2-year-old). Because children don’t like foods mixed together, offer them no more than three to four items at a time, aiming for a variety of foods throughout the day. Children should eat regularly—as much as five or six times a day—but allow them to get hungry between eating times. “Don’t let them carry around a bag of Cheerios all day,” Boutin says.