What parent doesn't struggle with providing their family with a healthy diet? With our busy lives, sometimes it's hard to find the time to even eat, much less prepare a healthy meal.

This situation is even more difficult during the holidays, when every day seems to be a special occasion to consume festive treats. That does not mean, however, that healthy eating is not an important goal. Wholesome foods are the key to a healthy child. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.

Unfortunately, our efforts can sometimes have the opposite effect. According to a recent study on MSNBC.com, researchers found that when parents were too pushy about their children's diets, their efforts often ended up being counterproductive and created picky eaters.

With this in mind, here are some helpful tips to assist parents in getting their families to eat a healthy diet this holiday season.

1. Start early.

Teaching kids good eating habits early sets them on a healthy course as they get older. If kids are given wholesome foods in lieu of candy and sweets, it will make it easier to get them to embrace a healthy diet.

2. Be organized.

Preparing meals or snacks is tough when you're crunched for time, but you can make sandwiches or prepare carrot sticks the night before, storing them in the fridge. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can be frozen, and then thawed before eating, and apple slices stay fresher longer with a little orange juice.

3. Timing is everything.

Serve the healthy stuff first. Not only is everyone hungrier, which increases the likelihood of them eating it, but it makes them look forward to desert. Once they have sweets, they probably won't eat broccoli.

4. Be gentle but firm.

As studies suggest, the harder you push kids to eat healthy foods, the more they often resist. Healthy eating does not have to be adversarial, though kids need guidance and boundaries.

5. Set limits on sweets and stick to them.

It's important to be a parent and not always a friend, which requires making unpopular decisions and even earning the wrath of your children. Be strong.

6. Serve fruit, especially with lunch.

I have yet to meet a young child that doesn't like fresh fruit. From apples to orange to pears, there is bound to be something your child will enjoy, especially with a little slicing and peeling.

7. Communicate.

Let your kids know how important healthy foods are and find out which ones they like. Kids are more likely to embrace an idea if they're involved in the decision, and it's good to let them know their opinion matters.

8. Offer variety.

With so many types of healthy foods, you can make it more interesting by mixing up the colors and types. Try tomato slices and cucumbers on whole grain bread with a little olive oil and salt, or apples, oranges, and pears mixed together for a simple fruit salad.

9. Don't overwhelm them.

Giving your child a big plate of raw broccoli will not inspire them to eat it. Gradually introduce healthy alternatives, like fresh fruit or carrot sticks instead of chips, or try strips of whole grain toast with a little olive oil and salt.

10. Make it fun and interesting.

Use peanut butter to transform apples or carrot stick into "ants on a log," or add a little butter and salt to that steamed broccoli to make it tastier.

11. Choose healthy fats.

The old mantra that all fats are bad is being seriously questioned. Omega-3 fatty acids, olive oil, and nuts are now considered super foods that have the added benefit of tasting good.

12. Break the rules now and then.

Let's face it, sweets and to even junk food are hard to completely eliminate, and maybe that's not the point. Allowing for some treats can help maintain a healthy balance in our diets.

13. Drink more water.

Sweetened drinks are a significant source of extra calories, not to mention unwanted additives. Kids will often drink more than they should, thereby replacing more nutritious foods.

14. Slow down.

Meals are an important opportunity for families to spend quality time together, not to mention enjoy good nutrition, so try your best to eat your meals together, especially over the holidays.

15. Avoid excessive white foods.

Simple carbs like sugar, white bread and pasta, potatoes, and white rice are not good for us in large quantities, so choose whole grains, honey, brown rice, whole wheat flour, and sweet potatoes, instead.

Like many things about parenthood, eating healthy is not always easy, but the barriers are hardly insurmountable. With a little planning and diligence, you can give your family with healthy foods this holiday season and feel good about the fact that your providing them with a wholesome and nutritious diet. For more information about the importance of fruits and vegetables, visit the website for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

From all of us at Parenting Squad, we wish you a happy, safe, and healthy holiday.