They don’t hand you a manual when you become a parent. Unless of course you count the thousands of books, websites, blogs, and message boards dedicated to raising kids. However, let’s be real. The overwhelming amount of information can sometimes be just as paralyzing as no info at all. In any case, when you are handed that beautiful bundle of joy at the hospital you know it won’t be easy, what you don’t yet know is how unfathomably hard it is to feed green beans to a 2 year old or anything for that matter to a picky eater.

Of all the the things you have to think about, worry about, spend countless hours scrolling through message boards about, “eating habits” doesn’t feel like it should be one of them and sometimes its easier to just let your kids eat what they want (or don’t want). However, it is becoming more apparent that forming a too strict or a seemingly lackadaisical attitude towards your children’s eating patterns can really affect your child’s health. In fact, a recent study found that children as young as two years old hold food preferences based on their parents’ dietary choices.” That being said, One of the biggest mistakes that parents make is forcing their children to clean their plates.

Katie Loth, a dietician at the University of Minnesota commented to HealthDay that, “In the 1950s, cleaning your plate meant something different. Portion sizes have gotten bigger over time, and if you encourage kids to rely on environmental indicators, like how much food is on their plates or the time of day, they’ll lose the ability to rely on internal cues to know whether they’re hungry or full.” Something parents do spend a lot of time reading, thinking, and talking about is sleep!

Carol Cottril, Certified Nutritional Consultant and author of The French Twist: Twelve Secrets of Decadent Dining and Natural Weight reported to Skinny Mom that parents should  “get [their] children to bed on time. Missing out on sleep disrupts your child’s hormonal balance increasing the hormones that make them hungry while decreasing the hormones that make them feel full.” Kids who sleep and eat? That sounds like parental paradise!

Another way to break toxic, unhealthy eating patterns in your family is to stop using food as a reward. Registered dietitian, Maryann Jacobsen, explains in her book Best-Kept Secret to Raising Healthy Eaters, “when we are short-term focused with feeding, we are more tempted to employ feeding strategies that are counter-productive for kids’ eating down the line. We know from research that using palatable foods as a reward makes them even more appealing to kids. And on the opposite end, using healthy food as punishment, to get the reward, makes kids less interested in the healthy food.”

An easy way to stop yourself from resorting to using food as a reward is to just not keep junk food in the house. Syd Hoffman, retired elementary school principal, Health and Wellness Educator, and author of “All-Day Energy: 100 Ways to Boost Your Energy…Now!” recommends this as a way to break the unhealthy eating cycle. “Having healthy fruit & veggies cut-up & ready-to-eat is the way to go! [I] keep frozen fruit available…kids love popping slices of frozen peaches (or a handful of red grapes) in their mouth.” She also recommends rewarding kids for trying new things. She suggests trying the “ten percent solution” where every 10 days your family will try a new fruit or veggie.

Livingston, NJ based nutritionist Beth Ritter agrees. She recommends that her clients read the USDA’s storybook The Two-Bite Club with their picky eaters. The free downloadable book encourages kids to “try foods from each food group by eating just two bites, just like the characters in the story. The back of the book contains a MyPlate coloring page, a blank certificate for the Two Bite Club, fun activity pages for kids, and Tips for Growing Healthy Eaters.”

It isn’t going to be easy to break toxic, unhealthy eating patterns in your family but it will be worth it. Once the cycle is broken, it will remain broken forever. The good news about 2 year olds holding preferences to foods that their parents prefer is that it isn’t limited to bad dietary choices. The best news is that eating healthy as a family is always a win-win situation for everyone!

For tasty recipe ideas for kids, check out Skinny Mom’s Kid’s Kitchen Recipes!