Would you choose a carrot stick over a Snickers? Maybe.

But for a 5-year-old, it's roasted peanuts and creamy caramel over beta carotene every time.

Patience and persistence, experts say, are key to helping children develop good habits that will serve them long into adulthood.

Would you choose a carrot stick over a Snickers?

Maybe.

But for a 5-year-old, it's roasted peanuts and creamy caramel over beta carotene every time.

Patience and persistence, experts say, are key to helping children develop good habits that will serve them long into adulthood.

"We work with [our kids] to master many new skills," said Jan Ritter, a dietician for the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "This is another one."

Children are naturally skeptical of new foods, she said. Especially veggies.

"Vegetables aren't easy to like. They can be bitter or taste strong," Ritter said.

Plus, she noted, the texture can be tricky. "If something is stringy, they could gag and choke."

To help kids learn to like vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products-types of foods they often resist-Ritter recommends exposing them to new foods in a consistent environment, like during regular family meals.

"You have to give them time to explore, instead of becoming a short-order cook," Ritter said. "It takes about five to 15 [tries] for kids to accept a new food. As parents, we need to be patient."

In some cases, the battle becomes so unpleasant that parents try to trick kids into eating properly. Hiding pureed squash in brownies, for example, may increase the nutritional value, Ritter said. But it does not help kids learn healthy eating habits.

"It's really repeated, natural exposure to foods that will help a child learn to like them," she noted.

There are other reasons why kids may say "no thanks" to healthy food. Sometimes children, who are better able to regulate their food intake than adults, are simply not hungry, Ritter said.

But parents must use common sense.

They should not, for example, let a child walk away from a full plate only to return five minutes later asking for a cookie.

"That's where we as a parent have to be responsible enough to say, 'We just had a meal,' " she said, " 'We'll have a snack later.' "

Healthy Eating Tips and Tricks for Parents Match a familiar food with one that's not familiar. Limit access to junk food and make healthy foods easy to find. Put a bowl of fruit on the counter so they don't have to dig to find a snack. Let kids participate in food preparation. They can top English muffin pizzas with chopped veggies or sprinkle berries over their pancakes. Be a role model. Sit down with kids and eat the same foods with them. It's OK to tell kids there are some things that are for adults only-like pop. If kids don't like something, they can politely decline. But it doesn't mean you can't fix that food anymore; try preparing it another way. Don't shun dessert. Occasionally it won't hurt-just watch portion sizes and seconds. Don't be shy about talking with your doctor if you think your child is developing a weight problem. Changing their habits as youngsters will help them in the long run.