Your two-year-old doesn’t care about nutrition, plain and simple. She doesn’t know how to read ingredient lists, and the positive effects of protein are lost on her. But just because your kiddo doesn’t think twice about what she eats doesn’t mean you should follow suit. We know you care about your little one’s nutrition, and that it can be challenging to choose the “right” foods that support healthy growth and development. We talked to Barbara Ruhs, RD, a nutrition expert for Avocados from Mexico, about what young children need from their food, and how to get them to eat in a healthy way. Read on for eight tips on what (and how) to feed your kids.

1. Pack a punch with protein. Protein is essential for helping the body grow and repair itself, and it also provides energy. The obvious sources of proteins are meat, poultry, and fish, but that’s not all — Ruhs notes that beans are also a great way to get it. If your kiddo isn’t into beans, Ruhs suggests trying a sensory experience. Give your child a mushy bean and let her explore it. (Of course, always take care when giving young children beans, as they can pose a choking hazard.) You can also mash them or grind them into a spread.

2. Get vitamin D through dairy. If your child chugs milk by the mouthful, great! The vitamin D in milk helps her immune system function, and there’s protein in it too. If your kid isn’t all about dairy delights, try adding a well-tolerated food to it. For example, Ruhs suggests mixing yogurt with applesauce for kids who favor fruit.

3. Try, then try again. According to Ruhs, it can take up to a dozen tries for a child to start accepting a new food. Just because your little one snubs the broccoli you’re offering doesn’t mean you should give up. Toddlers and preschoolers are testing boundaries and may resist the foods on their plate simply because they didn’t choose them. If you toss the food immediately, you let your child know that she’s calling the shots — so don’t give up, and don’t give in. Keep trying the new food. If you’re past attempt number 12 and it’s still a no-go, move on and try something else.

4. Pair the familiar with the not-so-familiar. Your tot is all about toast, and if you go with a whole wheat bread, that’s a pretty healthy choice. Take advantage by pairing the go-to favorite with something that might not be as familiar, such as hummus or a smooshed avocado.

5. Stop the sippy cup parade. Your tot’s tummy is tiny. She may seem like a bottomless pit sometimes, but there’s a limit. If she’s permanently attached to a sippy cup of juice or milk, she may be filling up before she ever gets a chance to eat the healthy meal you’ve prepped for her. Go with foods first, recommends Ruhs. That way, your child isn’t half full by the time she gets to a real meal.

6. Make fats healthy. Yes, fats can be healthy too — especially when it comes to brain development. They aren’t just responsible for your double bacon cheeseburger’s drool-worthy taste. In fact, you’d best stay away from unhealthy fat sources, such as fast food or potato chips. Instead, try lean meats or avocados.

7. Other kids can influence your mini. Your toddler turns her nose up at anything green… but her older cousin is totally into spinach. Put the two kids together for some positive peer pressure. Ruhs notes that other children can have a major impact when it comes to eating and trying new foods.

8. Play a game. Eating doesn’t have to be boring! Ruhs suggests that parents try a challenge-type game that encourages the child to try new foods. For example, ask your child to try three green foods on her plate or three foods that have circle shapes in them. And — bonus — your little learner gets an added lesson while she’s eating.

What’s your child’s absolute favorite food? Share your pick and tweet us @BritandCo!

(Photo via Getty)