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The magic of the family table comes from the conversation and connection between parents and children, but it’s also important to serve nourishing food, model healthful eating habits and avoid food battles. Childhood health experts say the best advice for improving a child’s diet is simply putting healthful food on the table and sitting down together to eat it.
Here are some strategies for serving delicious, healthful food that everyone will eat.
BUILD YOUR OWN
Everybody at the table, including the parents, has likes and dislikes. Why not make it easier on everyone and create buffet-style build-your-own meals? Foods that work well for build-your-own nights are tacos, sandwiches, soups, salads, pizzas and pastas.
While you’re preparing the meal, make it a habit to set a big plate of vegetable starters on the table for everyone in the family to nibble. Carrots and ranch dressing, roasted bites of cauliflower, broccoli and hummus, or vegetables and guacamole will get gobbled down.
The most likely time a child will eat carrots or cucumbers is when a parent is still cooking and the kids are really hungry, said Lynn Barendsen, executive director of the Family Dinner Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Once the food is served, limit any food talk to how good it tastes. Don’t make comments about how much or how little someone has put on their plate. Even something as simple as “Just eat a little more of that” could prompt a child to become stubborn and resist the food.
“No cajoling. No bribing,” said Anne Fishel, a Harvard Medical School associate clinical professor of psychology and co-founder of the Family Dinner Project. “It makes for tension at the table and it’s counterproductive.”
AVOID FOOD REWARDS
Studies show that children may react negatively when parents pressure them to eat foods, even if the pressure offers a reward. If you are serving dessert, don’t place any conditions on it.
USE SMALLER PLATES
Large plates, big popcorn buckets, big glasses and deep round bowls make portions look smaller and prompt us to eat more.
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