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Teaching children good eating habits for life

July 19, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Fights over food can easily turn into a mealtime meltdown. We all want little ones to eat well. It's another thing to get them to do it. If you don't want snack struggles to turn into a lifetime of poor eating habits, two local pediatricians say that you should stop making some basic mistakes.

Little Mateo says, "No, I won't eat my vegetables!" Some days, his tantrums hold his family hostage.

"So the battles, especially with Mateo now that he's turning 2, it's just a standoff," says Mateo's father, Ric Villalobos.

Ric's parenting style was to lay down the law and say to Mateo: "Eat your vegetables!"

Pediatrician Dr. Natalie Digate Muth says that's mistake number one.

"So a kid learns that that's a power struggle that they can have and they can win, if they just say 'No, I'm not going to,' and it becomes a battle of the wills," says Digate Muth.

Get tips from Dr. Digate Muth on how to deal with picky eaters (Watch video)

Digate Muth says pushing food can have the opposite effect. Instead, give kids a choice. Make it fun. But be patient: It might take 20 tries before a child accepts it.

"So you've got to be a little creative in helping to develop ways that makes them interested or willing to want to try it," says Digate Muth.

In their new book, "'Eat Your Vegetables' and Other Mistakes Parents Make: Redefining How to Raise Healthy Eaters," Doctors Digate Muth and Mary Tanaka offer creative meal suggestions.

"The patty is made with lean ground beef as well as mixed with ground turkey and in it, as you can see, there's shredded carrots, shredded zucchini," says Tanaka.

Ric says through encouraging healthy eating he's learned some of the most valuable lessons about parenting.

"I would try to coerce him and try to trick him, and it just wouldn't work out the way I wanted it to," says Ric.

Also, experts say: Don't use junk food as a reward for good behavior.

"When they're older, when they're adults, they turn to those foods to feel good again," says Digate Muth. "And so we set up emotional eating."

The authors also advise parents not to make separate meals for picky eaters. It's OK to let them go to bed hungry. In the end, it's all about creating a less stressful mealtime.

"And just let things fall into place. So don't feel so pressured to say 'Eat your vegetables,' but just make sure that there's a few vegetables on their plate," says Digate Muth.

In their book, the doctors also warn about the dangers of "grandparent sabotage."

Get tips from Dr. Digate Muth on how to deal with picky eaters (Watch video)