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Many parents dread “food fights” over veggies with their own kids at the dinner table.

While it is important for kids to eat more vegetables, there is a more successful way to approach the issue. Here’s how to avoid fights and get children to actually enjoy eating their vegetables:

What we know

Given the importance of vegetables for health and nutrition, there has been a significant amount of research on kids and their vegetable intake.

Kids are not eating enough produce: The average vegetable consumption for children is far below recommended levels and has actually fallen over the past five years.

Children are neophobic about foods: That mean kids are naturally suspicious of new foods and often reluctant to even touch them.

Children need positive role models: Kids are always watching what those around them are eating. When parents and caregivers enjoy their veggies, kids tend to be more interested in trying them.

What you can do

Since children may need to see a new food many times before they want to even taste it, serving veggies often helps kids get familiar with how they look and smell.

Veggies can be prepared in many ways — raw, steamed, stir-fried, roasted, baked and grilled. Kids who won’t touch cooked spinach might love a baby spinach salad.

The simplest, most effective way to get kids to eat their veggies is to eat yours. While this may not have an immediate effect, over time it will help.

Gardening is a great way to get kids more interested in vegetables. They are usually more willing to try garden-fresh items, often before they even make it to the dinner table.

Forcing or bribing children to eat veggies (or any other food) often makes them more suspicious of that item. They actually tend to eat less of the food in these situations.

For more fun, easy tips on healthy living, go to Registered dietitian Dayle Hayes is a consultant to school districts and other groups across the U.S. and is co-chair of Billings Action for Healthy Kids.