Help Children Develop a Lifelong Love of Fruit and Veggies
It’s all about making healthier choices easier – and in this case, more fun. A little creativity can go a long way in learning to eat with a Plant Slant, one of the Blue Zones Power 9 principles for better well-being.
Few people would be surprised to learn that most children don’t consume nearly as much fruits and vegetables as they should. Some research suggests as many as 90 percent of U.S. children fall short on the USDA’s daily recommendations. For most parents, it’s not for lack of trying. Fruits and veggies are full of dense nutrients, so they can play a critical role in supporting a child’s overall health, athletic performance, and focus in the classroom. But what do you do when you’re having a hard time getting your child to opt for fruit over fries?
Like the concept behind Blue Zones Project, it’s all about making healthier choices easier – and in this case, more fun. A little creativity can go a long way in helping your kids learn to eat with a Plant Slant, one of the Blue Zones Power 9 principles for better well-being.
Be a role model. Your child learns about food choices from you, so the best way to encourage your child to eat fruits and vegetables is to let them see you eating and enjoying them yourself. Keep fruit easily accessible and go for an apple, carrots, or tangerine. If your child sees you and their siblings filling plates with veggies to enjoy, your child will probably want to do the same.
Use praise when they try new things. If you praise your child each time they eat or try fruits or vegetables, they’ll be more likely to eat them again. On the flip side, punishing your child for not eating something can turn that food into a negative thing for your child. If your child refuses to eat something, try not to make a big deal about it – just try again another time. And bribing a child to eat something new creates an unhealthy cycle that also sends a wrong message about good food.
Make snack time fruit and veggie time. Fruit and vegetables make great snacks. If you stock up on fresh produce for snacks and limit unhealthy snacks in your home, your child will be more likely to choose them when they’re hungry. Be sure to leave freshly cut veggies on an easy-to-reach shelf in your refrigerator where kids can grab them in lieu of unhealthy snacks. Keep fresh fruit in an attractive bowl on the counter. Freeze berries for quick and easy on-the-go snacking, especially in the summer.
Go for variety, taste and fun! Try to choose different shapes, colors, textures, and tastes, particularly when introducing new vegetables to the meal. The more variety there is, the more likely it is your child will find something that they’re interested in eating. Create fun names for veggies too, like Tiny Tasty Trees (broccoli) or Mighty Green Beans.
Remember that taste and presentation matter. Steamed vegetables aren’t always appealing to young palettes. Consider roasting veggies with fresh herbs and lemon juice or use finely sliced broccoli in a stir-fry or on a pizza. You can have fun with fruits and vegetables too, especially with younger children. Create a vegetable face for a snack using grated carrot for hair, cherry tomatoes for eyes, a cucumber slice for a nose, and celery stick for a mouth.
Get vegetables into meals in other ways. Consider disguising vegetables in foods you know your child likes to eat. For example, you could include pureed or grated vegetables in pasta sauce or soups. Sneaky? Yes, but it’s a way to add healthy nutrients while their young taste buds are still developing. But remember, this trick likely won’t change your child’s behavior and affinity for healthier options, at least not immediately, so it’s important to also give your child fruits and veggies in their original form.
Grow a garden. Children love eating foods they’ve grown and picked themselves. Setting aside a little space for a garden – even if it’s a small container garden or indoor herb garden — can be a great way to encourage children to taste new things. But the benefits don’t end there. Gardening helps children engage their curiosity while gaining science, math, and reading skills. It’s also a great way to get the entire family outside for fresh air and moving naturally.
Involve your child in meal planning and cooking. Take children shopping with you when you can. Seeing a lot of different fruits and vegetables can make them more curious and interested to try them. And just as with gardening, children who help plan and cook the family meal are more inclined to want to eat what they prepare. Plus, they can learn planning, preparation, and even presentation skills. Older children can learn how to grate and chop when you feel they can safely handle sharper kitchen tools.
Eat as a family. While family dinners aren’t always possible, study after study shows they can make a big impact on a child’s physical and mental health. When children come together with the family to eat dinner, they see the example you’re setting and begin to mirror those habits. It’s also a great opportunity to engage in conversation and put Family First, another Blue Zones Power 9 principle for better well-being. Try to schedule family meals at least a couple of times every week.
Finally, keep trying. It’s normal for children to say they don’t like some things when they first taste them. If your child doesn’t like a particular fruit or vegetable, try offering small amounts with another healthy food that your child likes. Also keep encouraging your child to try and taste new things. Some children need to try a new food up to 10 times before they accept it, and another 10 times before they decide they like it.
With a little perseverance, fun, and creativity, your children will be munching on mighty melon and enjoying superhero spinach before you know it.