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Yes, You Can Get Your Child to Eat Healthfully

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Kelly Sillaste via Getty Images
Kelly Sillaste via Getty Images

We know the statistics: Childhood obesity is out of control; the Centers for Disease Control says it's doubled in the past 30 years, and that puts kids at risk for diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. We're also aware that healthy children often become healthy adults.

According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, while both adults and children need the same types of nutrients, what differs is that children need specific ones at different ages.

What happens, though, when your kid only wants to eat potato chips, cookies, candy or other junk food? Is there a way to introduce more vegetables and fruit without all the battles and cajoling -- not to mention the guilt?

Yes, and here's how:

1. Don't nag: It's a pretty common strategy but, more often than not, nagging your child to eat vegetables will just turn meals into a battle of wills, according to the Mayo Clinic. Remember, it could be that your kid just isn't hungry! Don't bribe and be patient. It sometimes takes a while for kids to get used to new flavors and textures.

Forcing a child to eat something may also unintentionally make your child acquire a lifelong dislike for it and anything associated with it. My friend Sue was made to eat peas, even though she hated them so much she'd gag at their very presence on her plate. She still won't eat peas but, sadly, she also won't eat many other vegetables, including greens, because the color reminds her of the dreaded pea.

2. Watch your language Kids learn from what they HEAR, not what's actually SAID, as supported by a 2012 study in Pediatrics; for example: "Vegetables are good for you" can be heard as "Vegetables taste yucky."

3. Have a fun, family, all-vegetarian dinner periodically. According to a University of Florida study, kids are more likely to eat healthier when the whole family eats together. They reasoning is that families are more likely to serve vegetables and fruit when they eat in, as opposed to French fries and soda when they eat out.

That said, serve things like edamame, spaghetti squash, rutabaga, etc. at yours to stimulate curiosity and introduce the kids to new flavors and textures.

4. Play "name that veggie" and other games: Natalia is a college professor AND book author AND exercise instructor who once told me her toddler loved going to the supermarket. She used to turn it into a game of "name that veggie." It was also a great bonding experience because this ultra-busy parent told me, "It was one of the few times I could be fully present for him."

5. Set a good example: A National Institutes of Health publication states the importance of parents being a good role model. Take the time to talk to their kids about healthy food choices and how they can help the body and speak up when you see an unhealthy choice.

6. Give them their own little garden: Even the smallest spaces have room for a container garden, but an avocado pit in a glass of water will also do. Gardening promotes healthy eating, and gives a sense of nurturing, accomplishment and pride.