In a new study, children who ate the most vegetables and fruits had significantly healthier arteries as adults than children who ate the fewest. Here are 10 tips to encourage your children to eat more vegetables and fruits.
- Make fruit and vegetable shopping fun: Visit your local green market and/or grocery store with your kids, and show them how to select ripe fruits and fresh vegetables. This is also a good opportunity to explain which fruits and vegetables are available by season and how some come from countries with different climates.
- Involve kids in meal prep: Find a healthy dish your kids enjoy and invite them to help you prepare it. Younger kids can help with measuring, crumbling, holding and handing some of the ingredients to you. Older kids can help by setting the table. Make sure you praise them for their help, so they feel proud of what they've done.
- Be a role model: If you're eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables -- and enjoying them -- your child may want to taste. If you aren't eating junk food or keeping it in your home, your kids won't be eating junk food at home either.
- Create fun snacks: Schedule snack times -- most kids like routines. Healthy between-meal snacks are a great opportunity to offer fruits and vegetables. Kids like to pick up foods, so give them finger foods they can handle. Cut up a fruit and arrange it on an attractive plate. Make a smoothie or freeze a smoothie in ice cube trays. Create a smiley face from cut-up vegetables and serve with a small portion of low-fat salad dressing, hummus or plain low-fat yogurt. A positive experience with food is important. Never force your child to eat something, or use food as a punishment or reward.
- Give kids choices -- within limits: Too many choices can overwhelm a small child. It's too open ended to ask, "What would you like for lunch?" It may start a mealtime meltdown. Instead, offer them limited healthy choices, such as choosing between a banana or strawberries with their cereal, or carrots or broccoli with dinner.
- Eat together as a family: If your schedules permit, family dining is a great time to help your kids develop healthy attitudes about food and the social aspects of eating with others. Make sure you are eating vegetables in front of your children. Even if they aren't eating certain vegetables yet, they will model your behavior.
- Expect pushback: As your kids are exposed to other families' eating habits, they may start to reject some of your healthy offerings. Without making a disparaging remark about their friends' diet, let your children know that fruits and vegetables come first in your family.
- Grow it: Start from the ground up -- create a kitchen garden with your child and let them plant tomatoes and herbs, such as basil and oregano in window boxes. If you have space for a garden, help them cultivate their own plot and choose plants that grow quickly, such as beans, cherry tomatoes, snow peas and radishes. Provide child-size gardening tools appropriate to their age.
- Covert operations: You may have tried everything in this list and more, yet your child's lips remain zipped when offered a fruit or vegetable. Try sneaking grated or pureed carrots or zucchini into pasta or pizza sauces. Casseroles are also a good place to hide pureed vegetables. You can also add fruits and vegetables to foods they already enjoy, such as pancakes with blueberries, carrot muffins or fruit slices added to cereal. On occasions when you serve dessert, include diced fruit as an option.
- Be patient: Changes in your child's food preferences will happen slowly. They may prefer sweet fruits, such as strawberries, apples and bananas, before they attempt vegetables. Eventually, your child may start trying the new vegetable. Many kids need to see and taste a new food a dozen times before they know whether they truly like it. Try putting a small amount of the new food -- one or two broccoli florets -- on their plate every day for two weeks; but don't draw attention to it.
American Heart Association