By Emily Hulse, MS
An account of a recent conversation with my 5 ½ year old Mya:
Mya: “Mom, you should get a new job!”
Me: “Why do you think that Mya? I really like my job.”
Mya: “Because all you do is stuff with fruits and vegetables. That is so boring! You should be a zookeeper or something!”
Me: At this point in the conversation, I was laughing out loud and not sure what to reply with.
As you can see, Mya doesn’t quite yet share my LOVE for fruits and vegetables. (My husband says I get more excited about cutting up fresh produce than anyone else he knows. Haha) Anyways, I guess you could say Mya is a typical young kiddo, she doesn’t completely hate fruits and vegetables but she’s not overly enthusiastic about them every day either. As of late I guess apparently she finds them boring and anything involving animals sounds way more exciting to her, such as being a zookeeper. (I’m hoping our behind the scenes tour at the Lincoln Zoo this weekend, where she saw the zoo kitchen and all of the many fruits and vegetables, along with other foods, it takes to feed the animals will spur more excitement in eating them.)
Below are some simple tips to help boost the fruit & veggie consumption in your household with your own kiddos (remember it is still National Fruits & Vegetable month after all):
- When introducing a new or unique fruit or vegetable, serve it in a creative and fun way and compare it to something they are already familiar with (point out the sensory qualities of the food). Below is a picture of one of the fruit & veggie creations we made at a nutrition training at a Lincoln Child Care Center. I mean who wouldn’t want to eat kiwi when it’s part of a “palm tree?” Instead of saying “You should eat that kiwi for me.” try saying “This is kiwi fruit; it’s sweet like a strawberry.”
- Think about how you dish it up! If you give a child a new food to sample, make it less intimidating for the child to try by offering small pieces of it in a little container, such as in the picture you’ll see below.
Sometimes I’ll take fruits and veggies and serve them in these fun shaped ice cube trays and my two girls seem to like that for a change over the boring white dishes (Mya didn’t get the memo to smile in this picture but Madison is all smiles over her snack of blueberries, peaches, and apples.)
- Grow them! One thing Mya does get very excited over though is taking care of her little raised garden bed, watering the fruit & veggie plants and keeping a close eye on them to see how they change each day. I think this is one of the surest ways to get kids eating more fruits and vegetables; they seem to take ownership and pride in something they helped grow and thus are more likely to eat it. And remember it can be a simple container garden or small raised bed – it need not be a huge garden for them to get involved and excited.
- Involve your children! Be sure to involve your family in the shopping and preparation of the fruits and vegetables. This can include things like letting the child help pick out the fresh produce at the store, washing the fruits and vegetables (a favorite of my soon to be 3 year old), and picking the toppings for the green salad at dinner (a task Mya often enjoys). Below is a picture of Mya making some fruity ice cubes to use in our naturally fruit flavored water – she has found this to be fun.
- Don’t force the issue! Gently and positively encourage your child (especially by first being a good role model yourself and eating it) to try the fruit or vegetable but don’t pressure or force them to eat it. This causes them instead to be more likely probably not to try it. This weekend I bought some fresh cherries and I can’t remember when or if Mya had ate them before. She was curious about them so I described what they tasted like and explained how to eat them; I offered them to her and asked her if she would like to try them. She proceeded to eat one or so and we left it at that. The next day I set the cherries out at dinner and she voluntarily grabbed a handful. If I would have first forced them on her, she most likely would have initially had negative feelings about the food. Allow them to exercise their independence which will help them maintain healthy behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs about food.
- Don’t give up! I know you’ve probably already heard this but children may need to see a new food at least 10 times before they’ll actually try it. If you let them, some children will eat the same foods every day. On the other hand, they can’t learn to eat new foods unless they have the opportunity. You’d be surprised how children will suddenly try something after refusing it in the past. Keep trying! Also, it’s not uncommon that your child will love a certain fruit or veggie (or any food for that matter) one day and then the next not want anything to do with it and then maybe the following week ask you for it. This just seems to be how it goes with kiddos sometimes (which I know is frustrating). However, keep offering it and try to avoid labeling them a picky eater early on when in all actuality it probably has more to do with their age and development. I’m sure you can all think of a vegetable that you didn’t really eat or like growing up but that you now do as an adult. (For me, it’s red bell peppers and sweet potatoes. I actually can’t imagine a meat & cheese sandwich now without having my sliced red sweet pepper on it.) On the other hand, I’m also sure that you can all think of a fruit or vegetable that you still haven’t grown to like – remember and respect that each person probably isn’t going to like every fruit and vegetable out there.
I better leave it at these 6 tips for now (before I write a book here), but I hope you find these to be helpful in your household. Even for my daughter who claims that fruits and veggies are supposedly boring, I promise that many of these tips do work to get her more excited about eating them so I’m sure they can do the same for your kiddo(s)!