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Are healthy choices just a cartoon sticker away?

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

Encourage kids to eat well creatively

Researchers recently discovered something interesting: Placing a cartoon sticker on apples made as many as 20 percent more of the kids studied choose an apple over a cookie. This and other strategies could help your kids make smarter food choices.

What if getting your child to choose a healthy snack was a mere sticker away? And what if that simple sticker could make an apple trump a cookie?

A new study by the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs in Ithaca, New York, looked at how familiar, fun characters influence kids' choices in the lunch room. Researchers looked at 208 kids ages 8-11 at schools in both suburban and rural areas each day for a week. Kids could choose an apple, cookie or both with their lunch. Some days, the food was offered with a cartoon sticker (sometimes on one or both).

Study findings

So, did the sticker change what the kids decided to eat? Without the sticker, 91 percent of kids went for the cookie, natch. Less than one-quarter chose the apple (they could choose both in the study). But when there was a sticker, everything changed. If the sticker was on the apple or both the apple and the cookie, 37 percent of kids chose the apple. The results were reported by researchers in a letter to the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

So what does it mean? Well, with a little creative encouragement, kids can be attracted to healthier choices.

Empowering kids

Encouraging smarter food choices

Want your kids to make smarter food choices voluntarily? Pam Howard, a certified holistic health coach, in Noblesville, Indiana, offered these suggestions:

  1. Let your kids pick out the food.
  2. Plant a garden.
  3. Combine foods they don't like with foods they do like.
  4. Let your kids dip their food.
  5. Have them at least try a bite of each food on their plate.
  6. Make it pretty or fun.

As a parent, you have the ability to empower your kids to make smart food choices by arming them with knowledge and getting them excited about good, wholesome food. Stacey Antine, MS, RD, founder of HealthBarn USA and author of Appetite for Life, says you can start by getting kids involved in making your family's meals. "Exclaim that they are now the family expert taste tester and their opinions matter. To be an expert taste tester there are three important rules: (1) Must chew and swallow the food. (2) Express opinions with a thumb up (if they like it); thumb to the side (not sure); thumb down (don’t like). If they don’t like it, they don’t have to eat it. (3) No yucks allowed," says Antine.

Another way to empower kids to eat well is to grow some food with them, says Antine. A backyard garden or container garden can be a joy for parents and kids to create together.

More on raising healthy eaters

Oral health tips for kids
5 Simple rules for raising healthy kids
Moms share: Healthy snacks my kids love

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