Take It Meal-by-Meal
It's important, however, not to overanalyze your child's daily diet by focusing on every calorie he consumes. You want your kid to develop a healthy appreciation for food. So even though you shouldn't be serving cola for breakfast and chips for lunch, don't force your child to eat the last string bean on his dinner plate either. And there will be days when he eats more than usual or is interested in only one kind of food. This is fine -- it's what kids eat over the course of a week that matters. On the flip side, you should talk to your child's doctor if he doesn't want anything but grilled cheese sandwiches or seems to be overweight.
Often, children want what they see, so model good eating habits and think ahead about what to serve. If it feels overwhelming to plan out an entire day, you can take a meal-by-meal approach to balancing your kid's diet. For an easy visual, divide up the plate by food group: "Make half the plate fruits and vegetables, a quarter starch (whole grains, potatoes, or corn), and a quarter lean protein (meat, beans, or fish) or dairy," says Elisa Zied, RD, mom of two and author of Feed Your Family Right! (John Wiley & Sons). Also, make at least half of the grain servings whole grains, and use healthier oils.
To see if you're on track, make a chart with your child to hang on the fridge, and put stickers on each food group as she eats it throughout the day. Kids will be more interested in trying the foods on their plate if they're involved in meal planning. This strategy works for Sari Gallinson, of Bridgewater, New Jersey, who takes her 4-year-old son, Ben, along on grocery trips to let him choose a fruit or vegetable, and even has him help when she's preparing meals. She gets Ben to pick healthier snacks, such as yogurt or fruit, by telling him these types of foods will help him grow and become "fast," a skill he's very interested in.