Do you have picky eaters? A recent study looked at how many 14-18 year olds met the recommendations for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Only 8.5% nationwide met fruit recommendations and only 2.1% met vegetable recommendations.
Healthy eating patterns are associated with reduced risks for cardiovascular risk, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, obesity, and more. Yet in the US, healthy eating is not common. Kids with type 1 diabetes and their families do tend to eat healthier than the rest of the population, mainly because they have had nutrition counseling and had to learn healthy eating.
Here’s some easy ways to increase fruit and vegetable intake with kids:
Aim for at least 5 fruits and vegetables per day.
- Eat more vegetables and fruits yourself. Be a good role model. You can’t expect your kids to eat vegetables if you don’t eat them.
- Watch your language. Kids hear comments about adults not liking certain vegetables and then they tend to not try them.
- Include a vegetable and a fruit in each meal. It’s harder with breakfast. Vegetables can be added to eggs, or included in a smoothie.
- Serve fruit with meals rather than desserts. Desserts are fine occasionally, but for most meals, serve fruit.
- Encourage healthy snacks which include a vegetable or fruit. Dips are great for snacks such as raw vegetables, or try fruits and yogurt dip, a banana smeared with peanut butter, apples with peanut butter dip. Here’s a fun recipe for Apple Donuts that look amazing!
- Try new vegetables. Studies show it can take 3-5 times of trying a vegetable to like it. Try different ways to cook vegetables, such as roasting. Roasting vegetables tend to make them sweeter. To roast vegetables, I throw a bag of frozen vegetables into a dish, toss with olive oil and add some spices, and pop in the oven on 400 degrees for 20 minutes or so. Super easy! I rarely steam vegetables anymore, most are roasted because I can put them in the oven while I prepare a side dish of grains and an entrée. See how I make meals in 30 minutes or less with no recipe or plan!
- Use dips. Even though Ranch dressing isn’t that healthy, it does help increase vegetable intake. Try to encourage your child not to drown it in ranch, or make a homemade variety that is healthier. Other healthier options include hummus, peanut butter, yogurt based dips, and cheese dip.
- Alternate between raw and cooked. My daughter doesn’t like cooked carrots, but she loves raw carrots. So when I cook carrots I also serve a few raw carrots.
- Send vegetables and fruits in their lunch boxes. My daughter takes a baggie of raw celery or carrots along with some dip in a small container. You can find mini dip containers at the dollar store. She takes some type of fruit cut up, such as apples, strawberries, kiwis, or orange slices. To keep apples from browning, dip them in some Sprite. I keep a bottle of Sprite under the sink for this purpose. It doesn’t matter if gets flat.
- Let your child help cook! Part of growing up is learning to be responsible and learning skills to live on their own. Yes, for little ones, this is still a goal, though very far off. (It happens sooner than you think though!) Kids are more likely to eat something they created. Let them help with age appropriate activities. Let them help wash fruits and vegetables, use kid friendly knives, prepare a salad or a mixed fruit cup, spoon some dips into bowls, etc.
- Help your child have a fun garden! Gardens don’t have to be huge! You can take a plastic tote and add holes to the bottom, or some larger pots, add dirt, and have them plant some seeds for baby carrots. My kids loved picking carrots they had grown! Baby carrots are easier than regular carrots. Lettuce is easy to grow in cooler weather. You can buy a 6 pack of greens, plant, and then they can pull off the outside leaves, and the plant will keep growing, making more.
- Make fun shapes and names. We used to call carrots “coins” and talk about their size and how much they might be “worth”. We called broccoli trees. We had bird nest of mashed potatoes with green peas. Make meals fun!
- And finally, add cheese sauce. Yes, cheese sauce is not the healthiest option, but in the beginning, it helps. I’ve added cheese to broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, zucchini and tomatoes, and other vegetables. Add sparingly but don’t think you shouldn’t add cheese. Cheese has calcium and protein so it’s not bad. Try to minimize processed cheeses and make your own sauce.
Choose one way to increase fruits and vegetables and get started today! If you have a picky eater and need more tips, a great book is Try New Food. by Jill Castle, a pediatric dietitian.