As a general rule, most nights per week, your children need to eat at home with the family.  Hot, nutritious meals with a variety of flavors, tastes, and textures should be the norm.  Weekday breakfasts and lunches may not be the most appropriate time for “experiments,” but a dinner now and then certainly can be.  Introduce new foods, new flavors, new recipes.

Try to avoid the if it’s Monday, it must be meatloaf syndrome.  Avoid fried foods, fatty meats, and breaded selections.  Make sure to serve at least two vegetables, and not routinely a potato and something else.  Remember, you don’t have to always serve cooked vegetables.  Often children like raw vegetables better.

I think it is fine to serve a small dessert after the evening meal.  Low-fat pudding is a great option, as is a small bowl of ice cream.  Think about ways to incorporate fresh fruit by making an apple cobbler or berry tart.  When thinking of a dessert, try to avoid a reliance on those with hydrogenated oils, such as prepackaged cookies or sweets.  Think light, think small portions, think augmenting with fresh fruit.  Try to keep the family portions balanced.  In other words, the adults shouldn’t be seen eating demonstrably larger portions of dessert.  You don’t want to communicate the idea that you get to eat more sweets as an adult.  If anything, we adults could do with eating fewer sweets than a growing, active child.

Remember that your child simply may not be hungry for three meals per day, every day.  Offer nutritious food at least three times a day and allow your child to communicate his or her level of hunger.  Meals should not turn into control battles, with food as the ammunition.  If your child declines to eat at dinner, simply cover his or her plate in case their appetite changes during the rest of the evening.

Obviously, children who express no appetite for dinner should not be hungry for dessert.  You do not control your child’s appetite, but you can control his or her food choices in a positive, loving, supportive way.

As you actively engage in strategic nutrition for your child, don’t forget the fat.  Now, this may seem like a contradiction to what I’ve said previously, but allow me to define what I mean by fat.  I don’t mean the hydrogenated, saturated bad fat that clogs arteries and adds pounds.  Rather, I mean the healthy, beneficial fats so essential to healthy growth, especially brain development.  These fats are the omega-3 and omega-6 fats, found in flaxseed, cold-water fish, and nuts.

Your child should not be on a “fat-free” diet.  If you eat a well-balanced, whole food based diet, your children will come into contact with the good fats.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.