How do I get my kids to eat fruits and vegetables? Usually the question deals with toddlers and preschoolers. But this question came from a friend whose child is in the “tween stage.” And at this stage, toddler tactics don’t work. After all, her child might just complain if she straps that child into a high chair with a five point harness. No, at this age there is an amount of freedom with food choices that weren’t always there before. But I believe there are still things you can do to encourage a healthy intake of fruits and vegetables for your child. Here are a few that I suggested to my friend:
1. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to feeding your family. If you believe fruits and vegetables are important, but your spouse doesn’t, your children will notice. And if they are inclined to refuse those good-for-you rainbow colored food items – well, all the more reason to not even try. After all, if dad or mom won’t eat them, why should I?
2. Take stock of your refrigerator. Have a good variety of fruits and vegetables ready to eat. Convenience goes a long way. If the carrots are cleaned and cut, the grapes washed, and the peppers sliced, it’s one less step for your child to prepare a snack; and the odds of them choosing one of those items over an easily accessible bag of chips increases.
3. Provide a variety of fruits and vegetable at meals, but don’t push or force them on your child. Nagging never works, and you will never win a food battle. Your job is to provide. Their job is to eat. For more on this see Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility.
4. Don’t be sneaky. It just adds an air of suspicion to your child’s dislike of these foods. Certainly don’t be afraid to put these things in foods, i.e. shredded carrots in muffins, pureed vegetables in soups, etc., but be open about it and comment on how it makes the food item a little healthier – don’t hide it.
5. Make it interesting. Try celery with peanut butter and raisins, frozen chocolate-dipped bananas, frozen grapes, apple slices with caramel, or strawberries dipped in chocolate. Some may say doing that adds excess sugar or fat. But let’s think of the goal – getting our kids to eat some of these fruits and vegetables. Eating strawberries with chocolate is better than eating no fruits at all and may just replace a snack that lacked any resemblance to a healthy food item.
6. Let them choose. Take your child to a farmer’s market or local grocery store that allows you to sample some of the produce they have a available. They may find something they like that they’ve never tried before.
7. Educate them. Talk about the benefits of eating healthy, and the possible consequences of an unhealthy diet. Why is it important?
8. Enlist other adults. If your child has a favorite teacher, coach, or other mentor, explain your goal and ask if they could reinforce it in their own teaching. For example, if your child is on a swimming team the coach could encourage a healthy intake of fruits and vegetables and relate it to performance.
9. Be a good example. Take a look at your own eating habits. Do you eat the foods (fruits and vegetables) that you’re encouraging your kids to eat? Or maybe you have a fruit or vegetable that you don’t like. Why not try eating it while your child tries something they don’t like. You may both be pleasantly surprised and find they’re not as bad as you thought.
Those are just a few ideas I had for my friend. How about you? If you have or know of a child who dislikes fruit and vegetables, how do you get them to try and eat these healthy food items?