- Choose optimal meal times. For example, have lunch when your little one is well rested, not cranky and due for a nap.
- Use family mealtimes as opportunities to teach manners and introduce new foods.
- Use kid-pleasing plates and glasses, cut food into eye-catching shapes. Kids like attractive, colorful presentions of their food. Dalton compares it to adults choosing a restaurant with a nice atmosphere.
- Foster kids' burgeoning independence by providing finger foods. Continue to offer foods they have refused. Allow them some dawdling time.
- Provide dips for vegetables and fruits. Kids will try anything as long as they can dip it, Dalton says.
- Take children to the grocery store and show them the wide variety of foods. With more out-of-season fruits and veggies available year-round, it's easier to provide interesting options. Expose kids to unusual fruits like kiwi or star fruit.
- Let your kids help in the kitchen. It's a few minutes of together time for busy families. Even young children can help wash fruits and vegetables or slice some foods safely with a blunt knife.
The preteen and early teenage years often seem like a throwback to the preschool days, Dalton says. Independence, which sprouted in the preschool years, now may seem like an explosion. With kids' hectic schedules and competition from easy and tasty fast foods and sodas, building a properly balanced food pyramid isn't easy.
Preteen and teenage bodies are growing at "warp speed." Nearly half of all bone tissue is formed during these years, according to a National Dairy Council brochure. Calcium is necessary for bone development, and there is a calcium crisis among teens, Dalton says. Close to 86 percent of teenage girls and 65 percent of teenage boys are not consuming the recommended amount of calcium - 1,200 milligrams daily, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Telling teens about risks of osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disease which often accompanies aging, doesn't have much impact.
"They don't care if you tell them about future health," Dalton says.
They may be more interested in nutrition if they learn about its relationship to how they look or perform in athletics.
Dalton, a member of the Food and Nutrition Advisory Council for Washington County schools, also has tips for coping with picky teen eaters.
- Provide grab-and-go foods. A bowl of fresh, washed fruit is an easy and healthful alternative to snack foods.
- Scoop crunchy breakfast cereal into a carton of fruit yogurt.
- Whip up a power smoothie drink with strawberries or bananas, or a milk shake for breakfast or after-school snack. Bonus for parents: It's something teens can make themselves.
- Involve older children in grocery shopping and meal planning. Teens and "tweens" - preteens - are old enough to prepare meals, Dalton says.
- It's never too late to introduce new foods, and family mealtimes are a good time to do that, even with older children, Dalton says. It's also important for parents and children - little ones and big ones - to share news about the day.