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How do I wean my preschooler off junk food?
Annemarie Inwood
Annemarie, you're not the only one with this predicament. Most parents of 3-year-olds are concerned that their children are picky eaters. When your son asks for the same foods every day, he's asking for a sense of predictability, control and comfort. It's the same for his other routines, such as his bedtime ritual, where he might ask for the same story again and again every night.

While it's likely that this is a developmental phase he'll outgrow, he might also be a child who is temperamentally or physiologically sensitive to different foods. Remember what your goals are: to develop a nurturing relationship with him, to provide him good nutrition and to lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating.

So, how can you encourage him to eat a wider variety of nutritious foods? First of all, try to create a pleasant, relaxing atmosphere around eating. It's great to eat dinner together every night as a family because he'll learn from you and your spouse to enjoy mealtime and different foods. Encourage him to eat other foods, but don't force him. Nutrition experts say parents should offer their children a sufficient quantity and variety of nutritious food, and let the children decide whether and how much to eat.

Have one of your son's favorite foods (the healthier ones) available for him to eat, so he has the comfort he needs and doesn't go hungry. But keep trying to offer him other healthy foods. Try offering different grains such as whole wheat bread, cereal, rice and pasta. For fruits and vegetables, serve apples, grapes, cherries, strawberries, bananas, melon, carrots, broccoli flowers, green beans, peas, cucumber and avocado. To help him meet his protein and dairy requirements, give him chicken, meat, garbanzo beans, cheese and yogurt. Let him see that you eat and enjoy these foods.

Most young children will eat some fruits and vegetables if you make them appealing. Serve vegetables raw because young children enjoy eating crunchy food. Cut fruits and vegetables into wedges, strips or cubes. Offer a dip of ranch dressing or fruit yogurt because children love finger foods and dip.

If your son helps prepare the food—like cutting the fruit and vegetables with a plastic knife and laying them on a platter—he's more likely to eat it. Also, if your son attends childcare or preschool, he's more likely to eat well there because the hunger from active play and the peer pressure to sit down together and eat can be very positive.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician