Getting kids to eat their vegetables is important to their overall health. In the words of Popeye the Sailor Man, "I'm strong to the finish cuz I eats me spinach."

Most parents would welcome such a positive message if it can encourage proper nutrition, and it turns out that popular culture may help them do just that.

Encouraging Good Nutrition

A new study has found that cartoons such as Popeye as well as other methods of making vegetable consumption more fun and interesting is an effective way to get kids to want to eat more vegetables.

According to the article, published in the journal Nutrition and Dietetics, it seems to boil down to how healthy foods are viewed by the children, and this is greatly influenced by how they are presented and portrayed.

Vegetables Can Be Fun and Cool

In the study in question, researchers recruited 26 children between the ages of four and five years to take part in a program that lasted eight weeks. During that time, the types and quantities of fruits and vegetables were recorded both before and after the study.

What they found was that when multimedia and positive role models were used in connection with healthy foods, the children's consumption of fruits and vegetables improved.

In fact, when children participated in planting a garden, vegetable-tasting parties, and cooking classes, their willingness and desire to eat vegetables was positively affected.

Parents were also encouraged to promote the message of healthy eating at home, as were teachers during school hours.

Parents Need to Take the Lead

The take home message from the study is that fruits and vegetables can be made cool and interesting so that kids want to eat them, and this could in turn lead to healthier eating habits.

When you really get down to it, most of the messages that kids get on TV or the Internet promote unhealthy foods, filled with fats, sugar and salt. You won't find too many advertisements espousing the virtues of carrot sticks.

As a consequence, it will no doubt require some effort on the part of moms and dads, which is not always so easy with the hectic schedules that many of us lead.

That is not to say that it is impossible. Here are a few helpful tips to help parents promote healthy eating in their home.

1. Start early. Establishing healthy eating habits is not difficult if you start early and offer healthier fare to your young children. As they get older, this becomes more difficult as they are exposed to unhealthy alternatives. Indeed, makers of processed foods count on getting to your kids early and establishing brand loyalty.

2. Make vegetables and fruit interesting. Talk to your kids about nutrition, and spark their interest and curiosity by planting a garden or exposing them to how foods are grown and produced (i.e., farms).

3. Lead by example. Parents need to embrace healthy eating if they want their kids to do the same, which may requires some hard work and sacrifice on their part.

4. Let kids take part in cooking. When children are actively involved and have a greater awareness of what is being prepared, they are more inclined to want to eat it.

5. Discourage unhealthy alternatives, at least early on. Young children are not even aware of what junk food is early in their lives. As they are gradually and inevitably exposed to it, they will learn to love it, but as a parent you can avoid encouraging this behavior.

6. Be active. Healthy eating and healthy living go hand in hand. Active lifestyles tend to encourage good nutrition, not to mention exposure to people who embrace healthy eating habits.

7. Avoid too much media consumption. When kids watch a lot of TV when they are young, advertisers are shamelessly targeting them to consume their products. While this may seem unconscionable to some, it is a fact of life. Parents, however, ultimately have control over this exposure.

8. Be a parent and not a buddy. Some of your decisions about nutrition may not win you popularity contests with your kids, but establishing healthy eating habits early on will lessen the severity of your kids scorn later in life.

The childhood obesity epidemic that is sweeping the country is a source of increasing concern in the health community. While the exact reasons are not clearly known, there are certain factors that are within our control. These include proper diet and getting enough exercise.

So make the effort to promote good nutrition. It may lead to some conflict with your kids, but if you can start early enough, they won't think it is unusual or undesirable to eat an apple for a snack or have fresh vegetables with every meal.

This will make you feel better as a parent, and you'll be doing your kids a favor by getting them to eat healthier foods. They may not appreciate it at first, but what parent is not familiar with that experience?

For more information about childhood nutrition, visit the website for Kid's Health.