How to Get Kids to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
If there’s one thing that unites us all, it’s needing to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Our eating patterns in childhood influence our adult eating behavior, so it’s vital that we help our kids establish good habits, as early as possible.
First, a couple of fun facts about kids and their taste buds.
Kids are more sensitive to taste than we are, so subtle flavors can be unbearable for them. (think: the mild pungency of a radish or bitterness of kale)
Kids are also more prone to having sensory sensitivities, due to their young brain and nervous system. Some kids really struggle with certain smells, tastes, and textures of food. It’s more than just picky eating — some kids will literally gag at certain foods. If you’ve ever experienced pregnancy-related food aversions, you know how easily a food (or even the thought of a food) can send us running for the bathroom.
Helping kids eat more fruits and vegetables requires time, experimentation with different cooking methods and cuisines, and patience. Sometimes, lots of patience.
Here are some tips:
- Kids will eat more when they’re interested in what they’re eating. Encourage kids to get involved in the preparation of family meals. This could be: flicking through a vegan cookbook to find a few appealing recipes, or going grocery shopping to choose produce for the family (even something as simple as putting potatoes or apples into a bag). Kids can also be involved in meal preparation (safely, of course), by mixing and stirring, or for older kids, cutting up fruit and vegetables.
- It’s said that the first bite is with the eye, and that certainly applies to children. Kids are naturally drawn to the vibrant colors of fresh fruit and vegetables. Cutting fruit and vegetables into interesting shapes (e.g. with mini cookie cutters) or arranging them into patterns (e.g. rainbows) can make them even more appealing.
- Keep fruit and vegetables handy. Out of sight, out of mind — so set up the benchtops with a bowl of fruit or a platter of veggie sticks and hummus. Food tends to get eaten when it’s in view, rather than tucked away in the fridge.
- Options. No one likes constantly being told what to eat, and variety is the spice of life. Giving options means that kids can take ownership of what they’re eating, and they can eliminate any foods they genuinely dislike or find aversive. Limit the options to 2 or 3, because too much choice can be overwhelming. And, make sure that all options are healthy, so that you are happy no matter what choice is made. Berries or bananas on her porridge? A green smoothie with spinach or celery? Avocado or pumpkin spread on sandwiches? Kids who have a say in what they eat are more likely to follow through with it.
- Be a good role model. You’d be surprised at how many parents insist on their kids eating foods they’d never eat themselves. Kids adopt their eating attitudes from us, so if we’re constantly scrunching up our noses at vegetables, then guess what they’ll do? A healthy relationship with fruits and vegetables is one where we actually eat them, and enjoy eating them (not holding our noses and gulping them down). This means that we may need to cultivate our own interest in exploring new fruits and vegetables, and different styles of preparing them. The best part is, our kids get to go on that adventure with us.
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