If you’re a parent, you’re probably concerned about teaching your kids to be “normal” eaters. Of course, you wonder how you could possibly raise a child without food problems when you have them yourself and have been confused about eating for most of your life. Here are some tips to guide you.

First, off realize that it’s a myth that kids don’t like and won’t eat vegetables and that they crave only sugary, fat-laden treats. Please, it’s been in our DNA for hundreds of thousands of years to consume a plant-based diet. That’s most of what was available way back when and we’ve evolved fairly well eating fruits and vegetables. So, understand from the get go that most kids find nothing inherently wrong with them.   

According to “Getting your children to eat their veggies” (Sarasota Herald Tribune, 8/13/13), research supports the following rules: “Grown ups and kids eat the same foods, sit-down family meals are standard and picky eating simply isn’t tolerated. Parents need not resort to trickery to get their kids to eat their veggies.” Dr. Scott Gee, a pediatric obesity specialist, tells us that “Research shows that you have to offer a child a food an average of 10 to 12 times before [he or she] likes it.” Might be the same for you!

Based on this evidence, offer your children a bite of some food and back off if they’re not interested or refuse to eat it. Do this often enough without a great deal of emotional attachment to the outcome, and the kids will likely come around. This means encouraging without being pushy, shaming, punitive, or critical. It’s fine to ask your children what they don’t like about a food and see if you can modify it to be more tasteful. One example in the article is drizzling a tiny bit of honey on grapefruit.

Go by the one-bite guideline and model that behavior yourself. This means everyone at the table has to take at least one bite of a new food (and that means chewing and swallowing it, not tasting and spitting it out). Educate your children about which foods are nutritious and which aren’t and never (ever, ever) apply the words “good” and “bad” to food. These are moral concepts, and have nothing to do with food. Be clear about your expectations of your children’s eating. More importantly, remember that according to research, “modeling” positive eating behaviors is “among the most effective [strategies] in helping children develop healthy eating patterns.” One more reason to eat “normally” and healthfully. Make it a family goal that you’re all moving forward together. You don’t have to be perfect eaters to have a positive relationship with food.