Expert Commentary: Tips for Getting Your Child to Eat

Every time I go to the grocery store, I struggle with the old menus and end up buying the same old fruit – apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapefruit, raisins, and grapes.

Kids don't get tired of repetition; they thrive on it, especially if they like it. But at the same time, kids won't increase their palate desires without trying new things. A few weeks ago, I accidentally picked up a bag of blood oranges. I didn't even know what they were until I mentioned them on my blog and someone wrote in to say they were a gourmet delight. I thought they were rotten when I first cut into them.

I bought a watermelon this week and some mangos – not green peppers – real mangos. We haven't tried them yet - perhaps today. We usually save watermelon for summer – for our picnics. I usually add canned pineapple, peaches and mandarin oranges as a breakfast treat and jarred applesauce to serve at lunch a few times a week.

Every day at lunch we serve a salad. It has become the children's favorite part of lunch. Salad is a real surprise, and the whole idea of "lettuce and sauce" has had to be cultivated over the last few months. Now I make a gallon of salad which the children will fight over. It goes like that in childcare.

We started with plain cut lettuce with ranch dressing. Then we added shredded cheese. The kids loved it. Then we added corn flakes – for crunch – and the kids went crazy over it. Now under the cover of the crunch, I've dropped some celery, some cucumbers, some walnuts, and a few pieces of feta cheese and some black olives. Next week it's tomatoes.

The vegetable field is a bit bleaker than the illustrious fruit and salad. Vegetables aren't necessarily sweet, but they are a fun thing to eat if you can get kids interested. So far, the interest has been little. Hot vegetables are a "yuck, yuck" except for corn. About half the kids like steamed frozen corn with butter. I'm not much on steamed vegetables; I think raw is better. We've tried cooking and raw, and aside from the carrots and dip, the kids will leave most raw vegetables in the bowl.

A nice mix is cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, green pepper strips, and sliced turnips. It's pretty if you add olives and a nice sour cream- ranch dip. But the fruit bowl is stripped a lot faster than the vegetable bowl – even with the dip.

All these things take the stress off the main dish. The very idea that a child would dive into pot roast, pork roast, ham, baked chicken, roast beast of any kind is funny. “It’s too big to put in my mouth.” That means I don't want to try it because it may not safely pass my palate inspection, and avoidance, which is a preschool discovery, is much easier to manage than trying something strange.

Childcare should provide 100% of what a child should eat every day. Children should eat real food – stuff made just for them, and it’s always a balance between what they should eat and what they will eat. Children’s food – chicken nuggets or fish sticks, pizza, spaghetti and grilled cheese are fine for toddlers, but as a child grows, he needs to experience real food a little at a time, and that’s what good childcare does.

Making the table come alive with choices about food is one way to make the pot roast and the ham less formidable especially when you add mashed potatoes, noodles or rice.

And we can't forget the junk. Kids love junk, so junk should be a part of their day just like home. Most kids need the extra calories when they play vigorously, so serving popsicles and ice cream and cookies and cake and homemade fudge and popcorn and candy will add trust to their day about other foods.

When shopping for kids, the idea is to make it kid sized, pretty, varied, properly cooked, fun, and a curiosity they don't want to avoid.