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Tip: Getting Kids to Eat Fruits and Veggies

March 1, 2012
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With spring in the air, let’s all embrace the fresh produce once again gracing grocery shelves and farmer’s market tables. And by “all,” I do mean all in your family. Your kids should also take part in the fruit and vegetable enjoyment. If that’s a challenge for you, these strategies might help.

Eat your vegetables. It’s monkey see, monkey do with little ones. Be sure to help yourself to fruits and veggies at every meal and show that you enjoy them by cleaning your plate. Prepare the fruits and veggies to your liking and serve the same dishes to your kids. Not only do children copy what you do, but they also listen very closely to what you say. When they hear, “Oh, my kids won’t eat that” or “Don’t even bother putting those greens on my child’s plate,” you are conditioning them with negative thoughts and endorsing their refusal to eat fruits and vegetables. Instead, encourage children to try new foods and talk about how proud you are of them when they do.

Give your kids the benefit of the doubt. Children have a much more sophisticated palate then we give them credit for. Babies in other countries eat many more spices and a wider variety of foods much earlier than American babies. For example, one of the first foods Danish babies are fed is liver pâté on rye bread. And the babies gobble it up! There’s no need to dumb down a meal for kids to enjoy it. Also, remember to serve a new fruit or vegetable at least 10 times before you give up. Kids need consistent exposure to new foods before they accept them. So don’t give up on peas just because they go uneaten for several meals. Try them again in a week or so, and keep trying. Your kids will never learn to eat fruits and veggies if these aren’t on their plates at every meal.

Don’t make meal time a battle of wills. The more pressure you put on eating, the more your kids might resist. Instead, make eating fun and educational. Discuss what vitamins and nutrients kids are putting into their bodies and how these make them grow bigger, stronger, faster and smarter. Every kid wants that!

Include your kids in shopping for and preparing meals. Let them pick one new fruit or vegetable each week, and then have them help peel or chop it. They’ll feel a sense of pride and accomplishment at mealtime. Buy fresh produce and serve it within a few days to get the fullest flavor. Fresh food really does taste better. Canned and frozen produce can be too salty and watery when cooked. Preparing fresh vegetables might be more time consuming, but if it means everyone is enjoying the fruits of your labor, it’s well worth the effort!

Don’t disguise veggies. There are many popular books with recipes for “sneaking in” veggies. But what does that teach? That vegetables should be hidden and not enjoyed and that your kids shouldn’t trust your cooking? Instead, explain exactly what they’re eating. That being said, smoothies with carrot (or other veggie) juice are a great way to get in a daily serving of fruits and vegetables. But be honest and fess up to what you mixed in. Once they say “yummy,” tell them it’s because of the carrot juice.

Also, seasoning is not the same as disguising. Experiment by topping veggies with butter, a drizzle of olive oil, a teaspoon of pesto, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, freshly ground pepper, cinnamon, garlic salt or a salt-free seasoning such as Mrs. Dash. You can also serve raw veggies with different dips such as hummus, spinach dip and various salad dressings. Or try mixing equal amounts of plain yogurt with natural peanut butter and a squeeze of fresh lime for a quick and delicious dip. Try my Greek Cucumber Yogurt Dip-Tzatziki.

Get out of your rut. Try serving fresh vegetables steamed, roasted, sautéed, grilled and raw. Also, try incorporating veggies into your main dishes instead of always serving them on the side. Casserole, soup, pizza and pasta are great options for this. Quiche is another delicious way to include all the best foods in one dish. Try my recipe for Zucchini Pie or Zucchini Quiche!

Serve vegetables throughout the day.Veggies make fantastic morning and afternoon snacks! It’s easy to pack slices of cucumber, carrot, bell pepper and grape tomato in your diaper bag or lunchbox. Rather than serving the same old crackers at your next play-date, try Ants on a Log: Spread natural peanut butter onto celery sticks, and top with raisins or dried cranberries. If peanut butter isn’t an option, use cream cheese and garlic salt with the celery. Delish!

Lastly, remember to be patient, have fun, and enjoy mealtime with your children.

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