Many parents have a difficult time making their kids eat healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Apples and pears — no way! Brussels sprouts and spinach — forget it! Broccoli — that will be the day!

You may know the scenario. It’s war! Little jaws lock, small mouths refuse to open. You try every trick in the book and still don’t get any cooperation. Neither your parental authority, nor bribery, nor bargaining make a difference.

Eventually, you give up, accept defeat and go along with whatever your little darlings demand.

Needless to say, everybody loses when parents forego their responsibilities, especially when it comes to healthy eating habits. It doesn’t have to be like this.

Model behavior

Kids learn mostly by example. They model their own behavior after their parents and their older siblings. If your kids have bad eating habits, ask yourself how that happened in the first place. If you eat a poor diet yourself, neglect your health and physical fitness or smoke and drink in front of them, you shouldn’t be surprised if your children go down the same road.

So be a good role model and set the stage for healthy eating at home and when you eat out as a family. Let your actions speak louder than your words.

Do not expect your kids to know for themselves what is good for them. They don’t have natural instincts they can trust. At times, they need your guidance and, if necessary, your willingness to draw the line.

Don’t be an enabler. If your kids nag you to buy them snacks or candy and you give in despite of better knowledge, you can only blame yourself for the consequences.

Starting healthier eating

It’s never too early to start teaching your kids the art of healthy eating. Take your children with you to the grocery store or, even better, to your local farmers market. Explain to them the benefits of the foods you’re buying.

You may want to visit a working farm where they can see firsthand how produce is grown and harvested. Among other things, it will help them appreciate the value of their food.

Kids are more likely to try foods they can help to prepare. Sharp knives and hot boiler plates notwithstanding, there is plenty to do around the kitchen table for kids of all ages, so encourage them to lend a helping hand once in a while. Who knows, you may lay the foundation for your child’s career as a culinary rock star or at least a skilled hobby chef.

Eating together

Eat together as a family whenever possible. Sit down for dinner and don’t allow your children to eat mindlessly while their attention is focused on other things, such as watching TV, playing video games or doing homework. Mealtimes are great opportunities for them to learn social skills, table manners and healthy eating habits.

Offer your kids portion sizes that are appropriate for their age. Let them know that they can have seconds if they are still hungry, but encourage them to eat slowly. It takes the stomach about 20 minutes to send a signal to the brain that it is full.

Keep in mind that children don’t have the same tastes as adults. For instance, many kids don’t like spicy food, certain textures or even colors. As a parent, you should never nag or force them to clean their plates.

Don’t bargain with them or bribe them, either. Dessert should be treated as what it is — a part of a meal, not a reward for good behavior. Generally speaking, it is never a good idea to use any kind of food as a bargaining chip.

TIMI GUSTAFSON, R.D., is the author of “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun.” Visit to read many more articles, as well as her Glad You Asked Q+A sessions.