How to Get Your Kids Into Fruit and Vegetables
Jim Davis once said, “Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie.” Does this sound like some voices in your household? Getting children to make their beads and go to sleep on time is a feat in and of itself—not to mention urge them to eat healthy! How many days have you spent imploring your kids to turn away from the potato chips and sugary snacks and reach for an apple or celery stick? With childhood obesity on the rise, healthy eating is a widespread concern for countless parents, leaving many scratching their heads wondering, “How do I instill a knack for vegetables and not dessert?” If this is a inquiry mulling around in your own head, rest assured you aren’t alone. Thousands of parents struggle with this conundrum, particularly in an age where nutritious food seems to be at odds with what’s popular on the shelves of grocery stores.
Fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, as well as antioxidants. Many have shown to fight against chronic diseases such as heart disease and even cancer. They are nutritious in any form, whether it’s fresh, frozen, canned, dried and juice. They offer low calorie alternatives to the countless masses of junk food lining the homes of schools and family pantries. With their high fiber amount, they fill you up and keep your digestive system happy. Naturally, these benefits apply directly for children—perhaps even more so as their bodies grow and their opinions on food are formed.
In the U.S. alone, the most popular fruits are bananas, apples, grapes, strawberries and oranges. In a study conducted by Harvard—which followed men and women for 14 years—the higher the average daily intake of fruits and vegetables, the lower the chances of developing cardiovascular disease. While all fruits and vegetables contributed to this finding, for sure the ones proving the utmost benefits were leafy green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.
When it comes to kids’ diets, one of the many hurdles is actually getting them to eat nutritious fruits and vegetables over junk food. With the onslaught of cunning advertising for salty and sweet fattening food, is it any wonder they are opting for the honey bun instead of the carrot stick? Of course, juice boxes were for a while a popular craze, fulfilling the niche of “fruits and vegetables” when it came to nutrition, but studies have since shown that the high-fructose corn syrup in these boxed juices can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. With verbiage such as “100% pure” and “pure squeezed”, many parents once thought their kids were getting all they needed in one box.
Unfortunately, the fiber that’s in real fruit and vegetables isn’t often found in these boxed juices. The high caloric content in these juices with its massive amounts of sugar even cause teeth decay, as well as other medical problems. What seemed to be a temporarily solution has turned into a deeper health dilemma. We want to get our kids away from sugar and headed towards natural, healthy foods.
The lack of enthusiasm on the part of kids to their vegetables is well known by scientists and parents alike. According to a recent article by the Huffington Post, 42% of children in the U.K. report happily enjoying carrots while their most hated vegetable is brussel sprouts.
How is it best to approach fruits and vegetables when it comes to what your kids are putting in their bodies? Let’s take a look at some useful and, well, creative ways to encourage children to eat more of the good stuff and less of the bad! Many of these are easily to incorporate in your household and may even be enjoyable in the process.
A Healthy Snack
First and foremost, when it comes to kids and snacking healthily, allow fruits and vegetables to be “anytime snacks”. Not only does this open the door for steady all-around access to nutritious food, but it makes kids want to indulge in them regularly when they know there isn’t a time or quantity limit. “You want to eat all the carrots you possibly want? Be my guest!”
Second—try incorporating fun dips to go along with veggies. Have you tried making homemade hummus in your food processor? It can be a real delight, especially with all the hummus variations you can concoct. A simple white bean dip can provide vital additional fiber, too. Not a fan of beans? Rest assured a Greek tzatziki with fresh cucumber and dill can really do the trick with farm fresh carrots and celery. The sky is the limit when it comes to dips—whether it’s decadent guacamole from luscious avocadoes or a vibrant beet and walnut mixture, packing rich colors and texture.
Be sneaky! That’s right—when it comes to incorporating fruits and veggies into your kids’ diets—you gotta be sneaky! Integrate vegetables and grated fruit into casseroles, baked items or soups. You can throw in handfuls of spinach and broccoli into an omelet in the morning or mix in cauliflower with your scrambled eggs. Pumpkin butternut squash pancakes are a great alternative to the usual recipe—as are veggie muffins, where you can include carrots, sweet potatoes, raisins, mixed nuts and even dried mango.
Make Health An Adventure
Taking trips to your local farmer’s market can prove to be an outstanding way to get little ones excited about healthy greens and fruit. Encouraging them to interact with the people who grow their food can make them more excited to consume it back at home. Similarly, allow kids to make the choice for themselves as to what they want to take home from the grocery when it comes to fruits and vegetables. This way, they feel a sense of connection to what they are eating, as well as empowerment.
Why not eat more fruits and vegetables yourself and serve as a role model? After all, kids want to eat “what mommy and daddy eat—“ right? Their interest will be piqued if they are able to eat and see what you are eating also, whether it’s crunching on an apple or dipping cucumber slices into homemade or store bought hummus.
With very little ones, in particular, adding fun names to dishes, whether it’s a “monster mango smoothie” or a “frozen superhero smoothie” can build excitement and boost morale. On the same note—play with your food! I know, I know—kids are always taught the very opposite, but in this instance, adding some creativity to get them to eat their fruits and veggies can make the process so much easier.
Short of ideas? Then why not innovate Rice Cake Animals, where you spread peanut butter on rice cakes and create fun animal faces with blueberries for eyes and strawberry slices for teeth. Want to make a cat face? Use dried spaghetti for whiskers—of course, just don’t let them eat the whiskers. This “playing with your food” theory has been endorsed by Cornell, who conducted a study with 208 kids several years ago. They found that when they placed a sticker of a favorite cartoon character on an apple versus a plain cookie, they were twice as likely to take the apple. (This study was conducted with kids ages 8-11.)
The Importance of Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and veggies promote good health and protect against disease and ensure a child’s healthy growth and development. These vital foods strengthen immune systems to help combat sickness. A high-fiber diet in children can help the proper function of the digestive system and prevent constipation, as well. Even princesses need to eat their vegetables, right?
If you’re looking to mix it up with carrots, for instance, you can play up the “various colors” aspect and promote the yellow, white, orange, red and purple varieties. You can even think of witty names for each of them that are color-specific. Carrots are an ideal source of beta carotene, as well as Vitamin K and potassium. Tired of using the same old size? Get your kids enthralled with baby carrots, which pair well with roasted red pepper dip and parsnip hummus.
Similarly, bananas can be a wonder fruit for kids and their digestive systems, as they are jam-packed with soluble and insoluble fiber. Have you ever tried making a banana fruit kabob? Or how about a banana coconut chia pudding? Even splurging a little and making chocolate-covered banana bites can provide kids with endless possibilities. Clearly, the fun is in the experimentation.
All in all, kids will continue to consume healthy foods like fruits and vegetables with encouragement from school and home. Combatting the stereotype that these vital nutritious foods are boring and bland is your biggest hurdle, but luckily there are countless ways to do so. With all of the good things these foods provide, it’s well worth the time and effort of presenting them in innovative new ways. Who knows? Maybe you will come to love a particular fruit or vegetable you never imagined as a result of this process.