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I'm often asked what parents can do to get their kids to eat healthily. While there are no quick fixes, I've gathered a list of proactive, research-based actions parents can take to positively influence their kids eating habits.

1. Eat well during pregnancy + lactation

Helping kids accept nutritious fare starts at conception. The amniotic sac not only transmits nutrition but the flavors of the food eaten. Studies show that the wider range of flavors babies are exposed to in utero and through breast milk, may help to increase their preference for a more diversified diet later on.

A 2001 study published in Pediatrics assigned 46 women to consume either water or carrot juice for 4 weeks prenatally. When the infants were given carrot flavored cereal at 6 months of age, the babies whose moms drank the carrots juice had few negative expressions and seemed to enjoy the cereal more.

2. Get in as much variety as you can

Most babies and toddlers under two are willing to eat just about anything. Research suggests that the more dietary variety kids get in the very early years, the more accepting they will be later on.

So start with bland fruits and vegetables but up the ante. Use herbs, spices, garlic and onions to make food taste good. Once kids can eat table foods, let them join you at the dinner table. Your mission is to get them to try as many flavors as possible.

3. Make the unfamiliar familiar (and accessible)

Research suggests that repeated exposure is the most powerful tool when it comes to helping children accept new foods. A 2003 study published in Appetite showed daily exposure was much more effective than nutrition education or doing the same old thing.

But experts in behavioral economics say parents need to go a step further by making healthy foods highly accessible. So lay out an attractive bowl of fruit on the kitchen table. Include veggies with dip with meals and while you're preparing dinner. Studies show the visibility of food increases desire to eat it.

4. Show them how it's done

"I've learned that at this stage, they so much want to be like their parents, so if I'm enjoying a nice green salad and broccoli or asparagus, they want to try it too," says Lauren O'Connor, MS, RD, dietitian and mom of twin preschoolers.

Now this may not happen automatically for every kid, but research supports the notion that kids are more likely to eat a food when they see their parents eating it.

5. Make time for family meals

Family meals combine the benefits of repeated exposure with role modeling. It also teaches kids how to behave at the dinner table and gives families time to connect. I know your schedules may be wacky, but get this habit going as soon as you can.

Kathleen Cuneo, PhD, from Dinner Together says that switching from special kid meals to family meals was the turning point for her now teenage daughter. "I saw a positive change when I stopped nagging her and we made a commitment to family meals," she says. "When I backed off and she was expected to eat from what was made available, she became open to trying new foods."

6. Entice them with food names

Parents can learn something that restaurant owners already know — you need to make food sound tantalizing. In his studies, Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating, demonstrates that the name we give a food can make a big difference in how children perceive it. In one of his studies, when the researchers called veggies names like "X-ray carrots" or "princess peas" kids were 60% more likely to try it.

"Dinosaur broccoli reminds kids of dinosaurs—and they think they are cooler," he says. "Re-naming food increases its appeal"

7. Use familiar sauces + dressings

Research suggests that children are more likely to accept new foods if they are similar to other recipes they like. In a previous post, Alexandra Logue, PhD, Psychology Professor and author of The Psychology of Eating and Drinking, discussed how some fussy eaters are super tasters—and she used to be one of them.

When she first started eating salad her mom put a lot of her favorite dressing in the bowl and a small amount of vegetables. Over time the dressing quantity decreased and the vegetables increased. This is how she learned to like salads.

8. Engage them in the process

Julie Negrin, certified nutritionist and cooking instructor, knows that getting kids involved in the kitchen can transform their relationship with food. She says that because kids feel little control over their day to day environment, helping with meals gives children a sense of ownership and makes it more likely they will eat the meal.

"I encourage parents to have kids pick out new vegetables at the market or flip through cookbooks for menu ideas," she says. "Kids have been helping with the meal preparation in almost every culture for thousands of years. It's how they find their place in the "tribe" and the world around them."

9. Help them make the health-body connection

When certified pediatric dietitian, Angela Lemond, works with frustrated parents, she teaches them the three Es: Educate, Expose and Empower. The education part is helping kids understand how certain foods relate back to the health of their body.

"I tell my kids how fruits and vegetables have super-powers," she says. "For example, I explain how these super powers put an imaginary shield around their bodies protecting them from germs and helping their boo-boos heal faster."

10. Try new foods when they are hungry

You probably notice there are times of day when your child is more hungry than others. Work with your child's natural appetite rhythm. If they typically eat small amounts at dinner but seem ravenous at lunch, try new foods then. And watch the in-between meal snacking and juice drinking that can be appetite killers.

11. Go for the crunch

It's not always the taste of veggies that turn kids off it's the texture. Researchers from Wageningen University provided kids (4 to 12) carrots and green beans that were steamed, mashed, grilled, boiled and deep fried. The kids preferred the boiled and steamed versions. Why? Because they were crunchier, had little browning and less of a granular texture.

So experiment with different crunchy textures and see how it goes.

12.  Pair the new items with old standbys

Lisa Gross, dietitian and mom of two young kids said that when her daughter was two, and turned ultra picky, she was tempted to provide her with only her favorites (she loved pasta!).

"I just kept offering the same food we ate but always offered fruit, bread and some accompaniment that she would eat," she says. "I hoped that she would outgrow this stage and now that she's five it's much better."

13.  Serve fruits + veggies first

According to a 2010 study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, preschoolers served bigger portions of vegetables as a first course at 47% more.

So put out the fruits and veggies while you're putting the meal together, your kids might eat whole serving of fruits and vegetables, and then some.

14.  Make nutritious food fun

When a group of 4 to 7 year olds were presented with two versions of fruit, one cut into fun shapes and the other not, the kids presented with the fun shapes ate twice as much fruit.

While the researchers of the study published in Appetite say that the novelty can wear off, it's important to remember that kids like fun. And if we can present food in a fun and attractive way it can pique their interest and desire.

15.  Give them a choice

According to Smarter Lunchrooms, requiring kids to take a vegetable at school has no impact on consumption. But if kids are given the choice between two veggies, they consume 20 percent more.

When you can, have your child decide between two items, the peas or carrots, banana or cantaloupe. This helps them feel like they made the decision of what vegetable to eat. And they might respond by eating it.

And whatever happens, try not to stress, mama. Jennifer from The Mommy Archives said it well, "One of the feeding issues I had was with me. I realized that I was the one that was panicking when I made a meal and he wouldn't even try it. I would be so worried he wasn't getting enough nutrients. Once I let that go, and let him set the pace of trying new foods, our meals became so much less stressful."

Originally posted on Maryann Jacobsen.

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We spend a lot of time prepping for the arrival of a baby. But when it comes to the arrival of our breast milk (and all the massive adjustments that come with it), it's easy to be caught off guard. Stocking up on a few breastfeeding essentials can make the transition to breastfeeding a lot less stressful, which means more time and energy focusing on what's most important: Your recovery and your brand new baby.

Here are the essential breastfeeding tools you'll need, mama:

1. For covering up: A cute nursing cover

First and foremost, please know that all 50 states in the United States have laws that allow women to breastfeed in public. You do not have to cover yourself if you don't want to—and many mamas choose not to—and we are all for it.

That said, if you do anticipate wanting to take a more modest approach to breastfeeding, a nursing cover is a must. You will find an array of styles to choose from, but we love an infinity scarf, like the LK Baby Infinity Nursing Scarf Nursing Cover. You'll be able to wear the nursing cover instead of stuffing it in your already brimming diaper bag—and it's nice to have it right there when the baby is ready to eat.

Also, in the inevitable event that your baby spits-up on you or you leak some milk through your shirt, having a quick and stylish way to cover up is a total #momwin.

2. For getting comfortable: A cozy glider

Having a comfy spot to nurse can make a huge difference. Bonus points if that comfy place totally brings a room together, like the Delta Children Paris Upholstered Glider!

Get your cozy space ready to go, and when your baby is here, you can retreat from the world and just nurse, bond, and love.

3. For unmatched support: A wire-free nursing bra

It may take trying on several brands to find the perfect match, but finding a nursing bra that you love is 100% worth the effort. Your breasts will be changing and working in ways that are hard to imagine. An excellent supportive bra will make this so much more comfortable.

It is crucial to choose a wireless bra for the first weeks of nursing since underwire can increase the risk of clogged ducts (ouch).The Playtex Maternity Shaping Foam Wirefree Nursing Bra is an awesome pick for this reason, and because it is designed to flex and fit your breasts as they go through all those changes.

4. For maximum hydration: A large reusable water bottle

Nothing can prepare you for the intense thirst that hits when breastfeeding. Quench that thirst (and help keep your milk supply up in the process) by always having a water bottle with a straw nearby, like this Exquis Large Outdoor Water Bottle.

5. For feeding convenience: A supportive nursing tank

Experts recommend that during the first weeks of your baby's life, you breastfeed on-demand, meaning that any time your tiny boss demands milk, you feed them. This will help establish your milk supply and get everything off to a good start.

What does this mean for your life? You will be breastfeeding A LOT. Nursing tanks, like the Loving Moments by Leading Lady, make this so much easier. They have built-in support to keep you comfy, and you can totally wear them around the house, or even out and about. When your baby wants to eat, you'll be able to quickly "pop out" a breast and feed them.

6. For pain prevention: A quality nipple ointment

Breastfeeding shouldn't hurt, but the truth is those first days can be uncomfortable. Your nipples will likely feel raw as they adjust to their new job. This will get better! But until it does, nipple ointment is amazing.

My favorite is the Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter. We love that it's organic, and it is oh-so-soothing on your hard-at-work nipples.

Psst: If it actually hurts when your baby latches on, something may be up, so call your provider or a lactation consultant for help.

7. For uncomfortable moments: A dual breast therapy pack

As your breasts adjust to their new role, you may experience a few discomforts—applying warmth or cold can help make them feel so much better. The Lansinoh TheraPearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy Pack is awesome because you can microwave the pads or put them in the freezer, giving you a lot of options when your breasts need some TLC.

Again, if you have any concerns about something being wrong (pain, a bump that may be red or hot, fever, or anything else), call a professional right away.

8. For inevitable leaks: An absorbing breast pad

In today's episode of, "Oh come on, really?" you are going to leak breastmilk. Now, this is entirely natural and you are certainly not required to do anything about this. Still, many moms choose to wear breast pads in their bras to avoid leaking through to their shirts.

You can go the convenient and disposable route with Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads, or for a more environmentally friendly option, you can choose washable pads, like these Organic Bamboo Nursing Breast Pads.

9. For flexibility: A breast pump

Many women find that a breast pump becomes one of their most essential mom-tools. The ability to provide breast milk when you are away from your baby (and relieve uncomfortable engorged breasts) will add so much flexibility into your new-mom life.

For quick trips out and super-easy in-your-bag transport, opt for a manual pump like the Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump .

If you will be away from your baby for longer periods of time (traveling or working outside the home, for example) an electric pump is your most efficient bet. The Medela Pump In Style Advanced Double Electric Breast Pump is a classic go-to that will absolutely get the job done, and then some.

10. For quality storage: Breast milk bags

Once you pump your liquid gold, aka breast milk, you'll need a place to store it. The Kiinde Twist Pouches allow you to pump directly into the bags which means one less step (and way less to clean).

11. For keeping cool: A freezer bag

Transport your pumped milk back home to your baby safely in a cooler like the Mommy Knows Best Breast Milk Baby Bottle Cooler Bag. Remember to put the milk in a fridge or freezer as soon as you can to optimize how long it stays usable for.

12. For continued nourishment: Bottles

Nothing beats the peace of mind you get when you know that your baby is being well-taken of care—and well fed—until you can be together again. The Philips Avent Natural Baby Bottle Newborn Starter Gift Set is a fan favorite (mama and baby fans alike).

This article is sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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We are almost into Pumpkin Spice season—this summer, this month and this week have flown by! But don't worry, we've been taking note of the good news stories you need to read when you have a moment to slow down.

Grab a coffee and get comfortable, mama, because these are the headlines that made us smile this week:

This kindergarten father is total #dadgoals

As Today reports, dad Jamie DeSpain is going viral for making his kindergarten daughter's day by taking her stuffed cat, Sophia, to work with him and putting her to work.

DeSpain's oldest daughter, Hadley, had been taking Sophia the cat with her to school as she made the big leap into kindergarten this month, but last week her dad realized she'd forgotten Sophia in the van when he'd dropped her off at school. DeSpain didn't want to cause an interruption at school, so he just brought Sophia into work with him and began texting his wife, Erica, photos of Sophia doing work around the office.

"I kind of have a goofy streak and Hadley really appreciates goofiness," Jamie DeSpain, who lives in Madison, Alabama, told Today Parents. "Combine that with her love for stuffed animals...[it] made for the perfect dad setup."

He took pics of Sophia taking phone calls, doing emails, having coffee and even having a pensive look out the window, which DeSpain captioned: "wondering what Hadley is doing."

When dad got home, his daughter was thrilled with her stuffed animal's big day out and was happy to be reunited with both her father and Sophia. Hadley was so thrilled with the experience that she asked her dad to repeat the mission the next day with her stuffed dog, Mocha. The cotton-filled canine was spotted doing various office tasks and, of course, drinking some coffee. 😂

Hadley's mama says her husband's antics were a welcome bit of fun and helped the family remember that while kindergarten is a big step, Hadley's still a little kid (and it seems her dad is too, at least at heart).

"Sending Hadley off to kindergarten has been a big transition for us as a family, but this activity reminded us that she's still little," Erica DeSpain said."We want to soak up that childlike wonder as much as we can, and this activity was a great way to do just that."

We think office buildings are about to see an infestation of stuffed animals!

This father's viral Instagram video is total #dadgoals

Father Jimmy Howell has gone viral for giving his 9-month-old daughter Kensley an adorable pedicure.

"She got a little crazy with me today due to the fact that I was filing her nails a little too rough, y'all see why I can't do anything for free, I'm charging her next week, just watch," he captioned the video he posted to Instagram.

"Kensey, this is free," He jokes in the video after Kensley seems to protest the spa service for moment. 😂

With the power of dad humor, Howell not only got the baby's toes clipped (which is hard to do!) but got her laughing, too. He says he has weekly "spa talks" with his daughter, so it's no wonder his baby nail skills are so on point.

Viral kindness: "Please ask me if I have sunscreen" 

We have all been there—sometimes you're the one who needs an extra diaper and sometimes you're the one who has one to give. The point is, every parent needs help sometimes and most are happy to pay it forward when it is their turn to give a diaper to a stranger in need.

Wisconsin mom Shelby Beck captured this perfectly in a Facebook post this week after she went to the park with her daughter and a fellow mama had to ask her for a favor.

When the stranger approached Beck, she could tell she was uncomfortable. "She shrugged her shoulders and quietly said 'I'm embarrassed to even ask, but do you happen to have sunscreen we can use?' As if she was somehow ashamed that she forgot to pack sunscreen today." Beck wrote.

She continued her Facebook post with an open letter to parents who find themselves in the same situation as the sheepish stranger.

"Dear fellow mamas,

Please ask me if I have sunscreen. Ask if I have baby wipes, diapers or even extra snacks.

Ask me if your toddler can sit down and play with us while you find a shady bench to nurse your newborn.

Hand me your phone and ask me to take a picture of you with your sweet babies - we all know mamas aren't in enough photos.

Ask for help. Ask for love. Ask for anything.

Even though we are strangers, please ask me.

It's not easy being responsible for little humans but it's easier if we help each other out.
We're all in this together.❤️"

We could not agree with Shelby more. Mamas helping mamas is a beautiful thing (and asking for sunscreen could even lead to making a mom friend!).

Oh, and one last thing...

Oh, and if you need a good cry this weekend, check out this viral Michael Bublé video that has parents everywhere crying about our kids growing up. Team Motherly could not get through it without sobbing! Just like summer, their childhoods will be over before we know it so take some time to connect with your babies this weekend. They're off to kindergarten today—off to college tomorrow! 😭


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Discovering the best foods for lunches and snacks is an important step in back to school preparation. But with new routines and packed schedules on the horizon, finding time to think about what to pack for back to school lunches can be a challenge. Some kids are super picky and won't eat anything but grilled cheese. Others could eat endless amounts of nutritious snacks all day, everyday. Regardless of where your child falls on the food spectrum, we're here to help you find what works best for your family.

We asked #TeamMotherly to share their favorite go-to lunches and snacks for the back to school season. Mix it up and add some variety in there and you'll be good to go! Here's what they had to say:

1. "Cubed ham, cheese, cut grapes, yogurt covered raisins."—Tiffany S.

2. "Granola bars, carrots or cucumbers and ranch, peanut butter crackers, fresh fruit."—Melissa B.

3. "For me? Wine."—Nicole N.

4. "My little one loves to take tuna or chicken salad with grapes and crackers, yogurt and ice water with fresh cucumbers and garden tomatoes or chicken Alfredo with toast and veggies or peanut butter celery tomatoes cucumbers chips and water."—Jackie P.

5. "The cafeteria!"—Toni H.


6. "Once a week, it's usually ham and cheese sandwich with raw baby carrots and grape tomatoes. And for dessert, I do yogurt or fruit. It doesn't really matter if it's always the healthiest or the best lunch, what I find really good is alternating and rotating and trying to get creative."—Erica W.

7. "Bananas, string cheese, blueberries, apple sauce, raspberries."—Melina S.

8. "Cut strawberries or cut apples & peanut butter for snacks! & Sandwich with ham or turkey, tomato, lettuce, & mayo separately! And yogurt."—Melodi B.

9. "I roll a hotdog in a flour tortilla and toast it in a skillet until crispy. Like a hot dog burrito."—Elda E.

10. "Sandwiches (meat or sunbutter and jelly), quesadillas, hummusdillas (hummus in tortilla), leftover pizza, bean salad with tortilla chips, boiled eggs/cheese, pesto pasta salad, yogurt and granola, bagel with cream cheese, empanadas (bean and cheese or meat). And always fruit/veggies as sides."—Tran L.


11. "I make a sandwich with hummus then pack carrots, applesauce, Z-Bar and some crackers."—Suzanne W.

12. "Vary it between ham sandwiches, dairylea dunkers, breadsticks and then healthy snacks and juice box. [I also include] water in a sports bottle for during the day."—Danielle B.

13. "Gluten-free pretzels and peanut butter, ham and cream cheese rolls, GF tortillas with PB & J."—Heather T.

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Learn + Play

If Amazon is a large, impersonal department store filled with endless inventory and unlimited choices, Hullabaloo Book Company is a sweet, curated boutique where you know you'll find something that's just a little bit more special and a little more meaningful.

It's a new children's book gifting site you need to know about, mama.

Hullabaloo treats books as the ultimate experience gift. Each book you buy comes packaged up in a beautifully designed canvas bag with a personalized letterpress bookplate. It honestly makes my bookworm heart soar seeing how thoughtful the experience is for both the gift giver and receiver.

The only thing I never feel guilty buying too much of for my 3-year-old son is books, and books are also one of my favorite things to gift. But as he gets older, I find myself turning to books not just to entertain him, but to also open up his mind, explore new feelings and understand that we have shared experiences as people.

My favorite part of this site is the way they categorize their books by "Amazing Attributes." Parents (or aunts or grandparents or friends) can shop for books curated by these qualities. For example, "Kind Hearts" is a collection of books that "teach the importance of understanding and caring for family, other children, and our communities" and "Big Feels" is a collection of books that "focus on helping kiddos learn emotional intelligence."

If you're shopping on price alone, they also offer a tiered set of gift collections starting at $29. It's such an easy and brilliant way to find a special birthday or baby shower gift.

SHOP

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When you're a mama on the move, safe car seats are a necessity but can be a budget buster, especially if you're looking to upgrade or have to furnish multiple cars. Luckily, Target is here to fix that.

Target is bringing back their popular car seat trade-in program from Tuesday, September 3 – Friday, September 13.

Just bring your old car seat to the recycling bin near Guest Services and a Target team member will give you a coupon for 20% off a new a new car seat, booster seat, car seat base, travel system or stroller. And the coupon can also be applied to select baby gear, such as high chairs, swings, rockers and bouncers. 👏

The coupon is eligible through Saturday, Sept.14, 2019, so if you don't see the seat of your dreams in store when you drop off your old one, you'll want to check out the online selection and act pretty fast.

With the exception of the small format stores, all Targets will be taking car seats between September 3 and 13. (You can find a participating store near you here.)

Target has held several of these car seat trade-in events since 2016 in an effort to help parents recycle the seats, which are not eligible for curbside recycling and take up a lot of space when sent to landfills. The retailer hands over all the old car seats to Waste Management, and the materials are recycled to make grocery carts, plastic buckets and construction materials like steel beams.

The event is really a win-win—we get to keep our kids safe while giving the car seats that protected them a second life. Just another reason to love Target.

[A version of this post was originally published April 18, 2018. It has been updated.]

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