03/07/2013 10:51 am ET Updated May 07, 2013

If You Want Your Kids to Eat Healthy, Think More Like Goldilocks


We all want our kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, but for many parents it can be an epic struggle to get their children to turn down chips, cookies and fast foods and opt for fruits, veggies and whole grains. And hey, even adults who have tons of data at their fingertips struggle. In fact, for the first 40 years or so of my life, I was pretty committed to avoiding healthy foods at all costs. l had a steady diet of sugary, colorful, fatty, salty foods that were supposed to be "fun." Serve me something as humdrum as broccoli, and I'd run in the other direction -- straight into the arms of a waiting pizza.

Well, Australian scientists have discovered one new trick -- cook veggies the way kids like them best. The study looked at how boys and girls ages five and six like to eat their vegetables. It turns out they are just like Goldilocks -- they like them just right. That means not too mushy and not too crunchy.

Children said they preferred the taste of broccoli and cauliflower more when the vegetables were cooked for a medium amount of time (about six to eight minutes). And the kicker was that the findings were true whether or not the children typically ate a lot of vegetables.

Moms and dads, take note. While this research took place in a lab, you don't need an advanced degree to replicate these results.

Talk to your kids about their favorite foods and find out how they like them prepared. If they are finicky about trying new foods, ask them if it's the flavor or texture that's bothering them and see if you can work together to find the perfect cooking method. Let them help you in the kitchen, tasting as they go. It won't take long for them to develop their own way of doing things, and become engaged by the process of healthy eating.

Now, I really like juicing my vegetables and I've noticed that the smaller folk in my life get a kick out of it too. So don't overlook juices and smoothies as a great way to get your kids to increase their intake of delicious fruits and vegetables.

Childhood obesity is on the rise partly because children are surrounded by and encouraged to eat too many processed and fast foods instead of fruits, vegetables and other whole foods. Why not start by replacing sodas and processed fruit juices with fresh, whole plant-based drinks? The sugar found in fruits and vegetables is more natural and comes with more nutrients to keep kids healthy.

Here are few more tips to ensure that Operation Goldilocks is a success.

Get Creative: You can make it more fun by letting kids create silly names. In a Rainbow Racecar Juice, the kids can pick ingredients from every color of the rainbow. A Pinkalicious Berry Juice could include anything that's pink. Dinosaurs loved to eat their greens, so a Dino Juice can easily be made with celery, kale and green apples.

Let Kids in the Kitchen: Kids love to help, especially in the kitchen. When I'm on the road, kids go crazy for my juicer and want to be part of the action. Studies show that the more kids are involved in the preparation of their food, the more interested they become in eating or drinking it. So let them pick, wash, cut or even push the vegetables through the juicer.

Elevate After-School Snacks: As many schools are replacing junk foods in vending machines with more whole foods, parents can start to make simple upgrades at home too. Kids always come home hungry from school, but rather than filling up on cookies or chips you can help them get more nutrients with fresh foods. Cutting up apples with almond butter can be a quick, tasty treat. Carrots and celery go great dipped in hummus.

Ultimately, kids and parents need to work together to get more nutrients and eat less junk. It doesn't have to be complicated; it can start with a simple conversation and move along until it's just right.