For parents with youngsters, the table during mealtime is a "kiddie battlefield."

For instance, kids who were once happy to eat fruits and vegetables may begin to refuse doing so at about the age of 18 to 24 months old, experts said. These kids start to become picky or fussy eaters, and this will definitely make it more difficult to make them eat healthy at this point.

That's not all. Even if you succeed at making your fussy toddler eat fruits and veggies, a new study found that it won't automatically equate to avoiding junk food and fast food.

"There has been a kind of assumption that if you encourage people to adopt healthy eating it naturally leads to a decline in unhealthy eating," said Professor Phyllis Pirie of the Ohio State University, co-author of the study.

Turns out, the assumption was not accurate, researchers said.

How To Encourage Healthy Eating In Children

There is, however, a way to do it right.

According to Pirie, parents need to have two conversations with their child when it comes to eating.

She said most efforts to lower obesity rates are more focused on adding healthy food rather than avoiding the unhealthy ones. What parents must do is teach their kids to avoid the latter.

Like everything else in life, encouraging your kids to eat healthy takes considerable planning and dedication.

1. Follow A Schedule

Little kids need to eat every three to five hours. This usually involves three meals, two snacks and drinking lots of fluids. Planning your child's meals will help you turn it into a balanced meal. Plus, your kid will be less cranky because he won't be famished.

2. Plan Dinners

It doesn't have to be fancy, but a good dinner should contain rice, pasta or whole-grain bread; a vegetable or a fruit; and a protein source like cheese, beans or lean meat.

3. Cut Back On Junk Food

Teaching your kids to avoid unhealthy food will help them in the long run. By having fewer or no junk food at your home, there will be no distraction that could only prevent your kids from eating veggies and fruits.

4. Slowly Introduce New Food

Professor David Benton of the University of Wales Swansea who is not involved in the Ohio study said even kids who were completely open to eating any food can develop neophobia, or the fear of anything new. This can be a source of stress for parents.

"It's a survival mechanism. Once children start walking, neophobia discourages them from eating foods which may be poisonous," said Benton, adding that this doesn't mean these kids are eating poorly. "Thankfully it's something that most children grow out of with time, but it is a big problem for parents trying to get children to try and accept new food."

What is the solution, then? You can tell your kids that their taste buds have to get used to the taste of the food. You can also tell your kids that their heroes or their favorite characters eat the same food they're eating.

5. Involve Your Kids In The Cooking Part

Not only does it give you and your kids some quality bonding time, this activity will be fun for them. If they become involved in cooking the meals, they'll be more interested in eating what they created. Again, the meal doesn't have to be fancy. You and your kid could bake muffins or cook something healthy.

6. Be A Role Model

Benton said children are more likely to eat new food or healthy food if they see their parents and siblings eating and enjoying the meal.

"If your child sees you eating vegetables, and they think it tastes good, they are more likely to follow suit in the future than if they didn't see you eating them," added Benton.

Meanwhile, associate Professor Sarah Anderson, the lead author of the study, was quick to say that although our assumptions were not exact, the government and parents should not give up their efforts to increase kids' intake of nutritional food.

It does, however, challenge our assumption on how healthy eating for kids should be.

The team's findings are featured in the Maternal and Child Health Journal.

Photo : Kelly Garbato | Flickr

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