The best way to teach your child that healthy foods are important is to eat them yourself. In other words, show him, don’t just tell him. In a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers showed that parents who ate lots of fruit and vegetables generally had daughters who consumed plenty of produce, too, whereas parents who pushed fruits and vegetables but ate few servings themselves tended to have daughters who had low intakes of fruit and vegetables.
In addition to preferring foods that are familiar, children also learn to prefer foods that are presented as acceptable in their homes. During early childhood one begins to associate both positive and negative experiences with particular foods. Offering a child a certain food as part of a fun celebration or ritual (e.g., birthday cake) enhances his preferences for that food. On the other hand, insisting that a child eat something in order to get a reward—“Finish your peas and then you can watch television”—usually creates a negative food association. Although possibly effective in the short term, over the long haul this will backfire because bribing your child to eat something tends to reinforce the negative association with that food.