Got picky eaters? Don’t get mad, get clever. Use these simple techniques to get your kids to eat a greater variety of healthy foods without resorting to mealtime confrontations ... or worse, force feeding.

Be prepared. Keep a cooler in the car that you stock with carrots, pretzels, yogurt and water when you’re out with the kids. This trick will head off the "I’m starving to death!" syndrome that can cause an otherwise reliable automobile to veer suddenly into a fast food drive-thru lane.

Plan dinners. If planning menus for a full week is too overwhelming, start with only two or three days. Keep it simple but balanced. Whole-grain bread, rice, or pasta; a fruit or a vegetable; and a protein source like lean meat, cheese, or beans.

Have fun. Giving leftovers a new name and a new look can make all the difference. My boys loved "Bits and Pieces," a highly anticipated and often requested lunchtime treat that was nothing more than leftovers cut into tiny pieces to be eaten with a toothpick — cheese, meat, fruit, vegetables, pasta, bread, hard cooked eggs and so on. Anything in the refrigerator was a candidate.

Dip it. Kids love to dip, so use it to your advantage. Dip cooked carrots in a tiny dish of maple syrup, fresh broccoli florets and other veggies into Ranch style dressing; chicken into yogurt and honey; apples and bananas into peanut butter. Introduce hummus and mild salsa as dips. Both are highly nutritional and go well with veggies, chips and whole wheat croutons*.

Get sneaky. Soy milk for example is a terrific source of healthy phyto-chemicals. Most kids who are not allergic to milk will not prefer soy so hide it in a recipe that calls for milk: oatmeal, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese. Throw a handful of chopped fresh spinach into the spaghetti sauce and call it "spices." Sprinkle a bit of wheat germ into a tossed salad.

Allow treats. It’s okay to have special treats occasionally. Instead of forbidding sugary cereal forever, make it "Saturday Cereal." Fruit juice, water and milk most of the time make "Sometimes Soda" more appealing. "Movie Candy" helps to make your very special family times more fun.

Try not to comment on what your kids eat. Bite your tongue to make sure you don’t slip and blurt something like, "Eat your vegetables!" A parent’s job is to serve nutritionally balanced meals. Your kids are responsible to eat them.

If you turn into a food enforcer, your kids will resist and soon mealtime will become a battleground and before you know it lifelong food attitudes will be set. As long as you balance smart food choices and physical activity with occasional treats, your children will be fine.

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*If you need ideas for yummy dipping sauces, send $5 to Dip It! c/o Cheapskate Monthly, P.O. Box 2135, Paramount, CA 90723. I’ll send you the newest in our booklet series, recipes for more than 25 different, quick and easy nutritional dipping sauces your kids will love.

© 2005 The Cheapskate Monthly. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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