Here, how to get kids and grandkids to eat better and try more foods

Feeding children can be a frustrating and thankless experience – whether they’re your kids or your grandkids. But it doesn’t have to be a losing battle. In fact, it shouldn’t be a battle at all.

“There are lots of things you can do to help shape children’s attitudes about food,” says Leslie Beck, widely consulted Toronto-based registered dietician and the author of 12 books on healthy eating. “And parents and grandparents play a central role.”

Here are Beck’s top eight tips for getting young ones to eat more healthily and expand their palates.

1) Eat regular family meals together “This is the No. 1 thing that really seems to help,” she says. “Studies have borne this out. Teens and pre-teens have much healthier diets the more they eat together as a family.”

2) Don’t fall into the trap of becoming a short-order cook “It’s important to cook one meal for everyone. That helps get children used to not only sharing a family meal but also trying new foods,” says Beck. “If you let your child or grandchild eat very few select foods, it just makes it harder for them to accept new foods later on.” And this, she adds, applies to anyone who’s looking after kids on a regular basis. “Grandparents may offer a special meal or a treat or something, but if grandparents are a regular part of feeding kids, then this is especially important.”

3) Keep offering a variety of healthy foods, even if they’re rejected Research shows, says Beck, that it can take as many as 10 attempts before a child accepts a new food. So keep trying and don’t give up.

4) Hold the snacks before meal time “It’s important that kids arrive at the table hungry,” she emphasizes. “They’ll be much more motivated to eat.” Beck suggests no juice or snacks of any kind for one hour before a meal and no more than two or three snacks in a single day. “Constant snacking leaves kids disinterested in food at mealtime.”

5) Avoid the bribes and rewards game Falling into the trap of offering bribes and rewards for finishing a meal or eating a particular food usually backfires, says Beck. Trying to con children into finishing their beans or broccoli doesn’t work. “It teaches kids to dislike vegetables since eating them deserves a reward.”

6) Remove the connection between a meal and dessert Don’t try to cajole kids into finishing their dinner by saying they’ll get dessert if they do. “It’s more important that children eat until they’re full, then you can serve dessert one hour after mealtime,” Beck says. “That means if they’re truly full, they’ll forget about the dessert. They’ll get busy and do something else.”

7) Get kids involved It’s important from a very early age to get kids involved in all aspects of eating, from meal planning and grocery shopping to food preparation and setting the table. Research shows that kids who are more involved are likely to overcome fussy eating habits. “The more involved they are, the more interested they’re likely to become,” says Beck.

She cites a study from Columbia University in New York that looked at 600 kids from kindergarten to Grade 6. They all took nutrition lessons, some of which included cooking workshops. The study found that the kids who prepared their own healthy foods were more likely to eat those foods in the cafeteria at school and ask for seconds than the kids who didn’t get the cooking workshops.

8) Be a role model “You need to lead by example,” emphasizes Beck. “We know that adults who eat a variety of healthy foods are more likely to have kids and grandkids who do the same.” She recalls how her young nephew would come over to her parents’ house in Vancouver years ago (for him, it was his grandparents’ home) and make muffins and cookies with her mother (his grandmother). “She got him really interested in cooking and baking.”