Digestive health expert Tamara Duker Freuman, MS, RD, CDN, knows that kids won’t always eat the “healthy” options when given a choice. But that doesn’t stop her from packing it in her kids’ lunches or serving it at every meal.

“It’s about balance and diversity,” Freuman says. “I pack my kids’ lunches every day for school. Every day, there’s a whole grain, a fruit and a vegetable in every meal. At dinner, there’s a high-fiber starch and vegetable along with protein on the plate.”

And while the dietitian isn’t fooled into thinking that her kids will always choose to eat the veggie or fruit on their plate or in their lunchbox, she knows that simply giving them the opportunity and the exposure is what matters.

“I tell parents if you don’t pack it or serve it, they can’t eat it,” Freuman says. “You don’t know when that moment will be that they decide to put it in their mouth. Every parent I know whose kids eat salad says they were not born loving salad. They developed a love for it because they kept getting exposed to it.”

Freuman references her own experience with her kids, who love roasted cauliflower. It’s no coincidence that cauliflower is Freuman’s favorite veggie—and thus she serves it often.

“My kids have been exposed to [cauliflower] really often, and that’s why they eat it,” she explains. “Kids in Japan eat sushi, not because they’re programmed to like sushi but because they’re exposed to it so much, they develop a taste for it.”

And while she understands the desire to not want to waste food, Freuman says that shouldn’t deter or discourage parents.

“I’m always making sure that I’m serving and offering a variety of fiber-rich plant foods. Whether my kids eat them or not, I’m serving them,” Freuman says. “I think a lot of parents give up after a while. ‘I’m not packing a vegetable anymore. It always comes home, my kid never eats it.’ I sympathize. We call them boomerang foods in my house. I send them off and they boomerang back to me.”

Another tactic Freuman encourages parents to use is diversity. When packing her kids’ lunches or making dinner, Freuman is specifically changing up the offerings, often seasonally, to expose her kids to all sorts of foods. Right now, she says, her family is really into pomegranates and clementines, and in the summer, they eat a lot of berries.

But at the end of the day, Freuman says, getting your kids to eat—and love—foods is a marathon, not a sprint.

“You have to keep offering. They can’t eat it if they’re not offered,” she says.

Photo credit: Tijana87, Thinkstock