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Teach children to eat well
Web site helps parents of picky preschoolers

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PHOTOS BY PETER CIHELKA/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 1/11/2009

IF YOU'VE EVER WORRIED that your picky preschooler will starve herself and stunt her growth, a new Web site may calm your nerves.

The MyPyramid for Preschoolers Web site is full of helpful tools, including interactive growth charts you can discuss with your pediatrician, calculators to figure out how much your child needs to eat to grow and sample meals. Best of all, it has parenting tips based on sound child psychology and nutrition.

These psychological tips--focusing on phrases parents should and shouldn't use at mealtimes--apply to older children, too.

You can sample the site online through the government's mypyramid.gov site. Just click on the new MyPyramid for Preschoolers link, and you'll get tons of info about nourishing kids ages 2 to 5 (mypyramid.gov already has a special section for children ages 6-11 that older children and their parents can check out).

The new site for preschoolers is full of tips to make family meals enjoyable, cope with picky eaters, introduce new foods and get young children to help in the kitchen. The site also includes behavioral milestones related to eating.

There are strategies for making food fun to eat, such as transforming half of a small baked potato into a "potato pal" smiley face with peas for eyes, a cherry-tomato nose and a cheese-wedge smile. Another clever trick is the "bagel snake"--check the site for details on how to transform a mini bagel into a snake with only two cuts of a knife and some colorful toppings.

WORDS OF WISDOM

My very favorite part of the site, though, is more psychological.

"This is where the rubber meets the road," raved Brian Wansink, the head of the federal Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, at the American Dietetic Association's packed convention in Chicago last fall. "It tells me what phrases I've been saying wrong with my little girls all these years. It's changed what I do every day with my little preschooler girls."

The feature Wansink was so excited about is a Web page called "Phrases that Help and Hinder" (see the box on the front of Healthy Living for the Web address).

I agree that this is the gem of the entire site. It shows parents how to gently take action without creating power struggles.


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You can find sample menus, exercise tips and strategies for coaxing reluctant eaters to try new foods at mypyramid.gov. The Web site has a special section for preschoolers, as well as one for older children.

There's also a section on "Phrases that Help and Hinder," at mypyra mid.gov/preschoolers/Healthy Habits/phrasesthathelp.pdf.

Jennifer Motl is a registered dietitian. Formerly of Fredericksburg, she now lives in Wisconsin.