Food fights may have been entertaining during childhood, but arguing with a child about what he or she eats is anything but amusing.

Many parents regularly resort to cajoling, threats or flat-out bribes to persuade pint-sized diners to eat their dinner -- often, to no avail.

Worrying about what children eat is nothing new. But rising rates of childhood obesity have made many parents more concerned about what goes into their children's tummies.

"The trend in recent years is that almost everybody has become more anxious about it," said Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian and family therapist and author of "Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family" (Kelcy Press, 2008).

So what's a parent to do? Much of Satter's approach to feeding children revolves around what she calls the division of responsibility.

"The parent controls the what, when and where of feeding," Satter said. "The child is responsible for how much and whether to eat."

That simple advice can be difficult to follow, especially when a toddler turns his or her nose up at a lovingly prepared meal. Some parents are OK with a child skipping a meal entirely, prescribing to the "if you won't eat this, you won't eat at all" school of thought.

Others make a separate meal altogether for finicky eaters, serving tried-and-true favorites like chicken nuggets or hot dogs. Really, parents just have to decide what the food rules are in their household and stick with it, says Jill McKenzie, a Lehi mother of six and author of "52 Weeks of Proven Recipes for Picky Kids" (Deseret Book, 2008).

"My No.1 tip for dealing with picky eaters is being consistent," said McKenzie "Once you set the rules, you as the parent need to follow through with it."

So, if everyone at the table has to take at least one bite, make sure everyone takes one bite. If consuming more vegetables is the overall goal, make sure to provide a plethora of them in meals throughout the day.

"Let your children see you enjoy a wide variety of foods," McKenzie said. "Just like you had to show your baby how to take his first bite of strained peaches, sometimes you need to show your 8-year-old that you, too, can eat vegetables."

The beauty of eating meals together as a family, she says, is that kids get to see their siblings and parents happily consume all types of food.

Often, vegetables are the source of much mealtime contention. To solve this problem, McKenzie uses the rule of multiples when it comes to after-school snacks. Her kids often arrive home from school to find a large platter of vegetables and dip on the kitchen table.

"When dinner time comes around you know that they've had two or three servings of vegetables so if they don't like the spinach you're serving with dinner, you don't have to stress out," McKenzie said.

And if they are too full for dinner, at least those calories are coming from a healthful source. But sometimes eating raw vegetables, in their natural form, is way too much to ask. Laura Powell, of South Jordan, the cook behind the blog Real Mom Kitchen, has three kids who are all picky to some degree. Often, the inclusion of "obvious" vegetables in a dish is all it takes to set off a picky eater. So Powell says she goes to extra lengths to conceal controversial ingredients like celery and onion.

"I have a little mini food chopper that I use to chop them until they are really fine and it's not even noticeable that it's in the dish," said Powell, who blogs at www.realmomkitchen.com. "I throw in fresh herbs or spices, too, and they don't seem to mind it as much as they do when they see a big piece of broccoli or another vegetable."

Sometimes parents have to get creative. McKenzie's sons had an aversion to pears. McKenzie really wanted him to try the fruit, so she created a pear drink called Pear Ice, based on his favorite icy drink. The beverage was a hit and got him past the "I hate pears" phase.

"Try foods in different forms," McKenzie said. "Your child may not like bananas, so try a smoothie with bananas and yogurt instead."

Powell had a similar experience with one of her children. Her now 10-year-old son refused to eat zucchini in any form. One day, Powell offered him a cinnamon chocolate chip muffin, omitting the reference to zucchini in the title.

"He ate them and said, 'Oh, Mom, these are so good, these are so yummy,' " Powell recalled. "Eventually, we did tell him that they had zucchini in them, and now they're one of his favorite things. He asks, 'When is it going to be time to grow zucchini so we can have those muffins?' "

Getting kids involved in the food-making process is perhaps one of the best tips of all. Let them pick out food at the grocery store or help with food prep in the kitchen, says Lisa Rice, nutrition education assistant with the USU Extension in Utah County. Involve them by asking questions like, 'What does a good cantaloupe look like?' " she suggests, so they really feel involved.

Anne Brockhoff of McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this story.

 

Recipes

 

Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 8

• 1 (12-ounce) package of macaroni pasta cooked and well-drained, according to the package

• 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup

• 6 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese, or any other cheddar

• 1½ cup diced cooked ham

• 1 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced and sauteed in butter

• 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Combine soup and six cups of cheese in a saucepan. Heat this mixture until smooth and cheese is melted. In a 9-inch by-13 sprayed dish, layer half of cooked macaroni, then half of cheese sauce. Sprinkle with all of ham and sauteed mushrooms. Repeat the macaroni and sauce layers and end with remaining one cup cheese. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees until bubbly (at least 25 min).

-- Recipe courtesy of Laura Powell, realmomkitchen.com

 

Pigs in a Blanket

Serves 10

• 1 package (º ounce) active dry yeast

13 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided

23 cup warm milk (110 to 115 degrees)

13 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)

• 1 egg, beaten

• 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons shortening, melted

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 3 and 23 cups all-purpose flour

• 10 hot dogs

• 2 slices process American cheese

In a bowl, dissolve yeast and one teaspoon sugar in milk and water; let stand for 5 minutes. Add egg, shortening, salt, remaining sugar and enough flour to form a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Cut a 1/4-inch-deep lengthwise slit in each hot dog. Cut cheese slices into five strips; place one strip in a slit of each hot dog. Punch dough down; divide into 10 portions. Roll each into a 5-inch by 2-1/2-inch rectangle and wrap around prepared hot dogs; pinch seam and ends to seal. Place seam side down on greased baking sheets; let rise for 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown.

-- Recipe courtesy of Laura Powell, realmomkitchen.com

 

Pear Ice

Serves 4 to 6

• 1 (28-ounce) can pears, chilled

• 4 cups ice

Pour chilled pears, including juice, into blender. Add the ice and blend. Serve in dessert glasses or freeze into Popsicles.

-- Recipe courtesy of Jill McKenzie, "52 Weeks of Proven Recipes for Picky Eaters"

 

Little Pig in the Rice

Serves 6 to 8

• 1 cup brown rice

• 1 pound mild Italian turkey sausage or pork sausage

• 1 cup chopped onion

• 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

• 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained

• 1 (15.25-ounce) can whole kernel corn with red and green bell peppers, drained

• 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Prepare rice according to package directions. While rice is cooking, brown sausage in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until no pink remains, stirring frequently to break up sausage. Remove sausage from skillet; cover with foil to keep warm. Drain excess fat from skillet. In same skillet, cook onion for two minutes. Add beans, undrained tomatoes, corn, sausage and cooked rice. Heat through. Sprinkle cheese on top and serve.

-- Recipe courtesy of Jill McKenzie, "52 Weeks of Proven Recipes for Picky Eaters"

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