Fun-damentals: Getting your kids to eat their fruit and veggies
Once you've moved past spoon-feeding, making sure your ever-more-assertive kids keep on eating a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables becomes increasingly more challenging -- especially considering the current recommendations that about half of what they eat should be produce. One solution? Instead of approaching "eat your veggies" like it's a chore, inject some fun into the proceedings. Of course, a little pragmatism never hurt either. Here are our top tips:
- Try, try again. This old maxim is never more true than when you're dealing with a "selective" eater. It can take a child many, many tries before they finally decide they like a particular food. So if your discriminating little one turns up her nose at broccoli once or ten times, don't completely give up. Just wait a couple of weeks before you go there again.
- Branch out a bit. There is a great bounty of fruits and veggies ripe for the picking at your local Big Y; you're bound to stumble on at least a few that your kids will enjoy. Include mashed sweet potatoes and edamame and mango chopped into small bite size pieces. You can incorporate old standbys like grapes, apples and carrots but know each one may pose a choking hazard. Be sure to cut grapes into quarters and slice apples into small bite-size shavings. For carrots, never cut into circles. Your best bet is to cut them into quarters and steam slightly in the microwave so they are easily mashed when eaten.
- Don't force the issue. One surefire way to keep just about any kid from eating what you want them to eat is to turn your dinner table into a battle royale. Don't force them to eat if they aren't hungry, if they've already declared their distaste for something after trying a bite or two or if it looks like they're not going to clear their plate. Just move on for the moment and try again next mealtime.
- Keep an eye on portion size. Remember: They're little! And little kids are easily overwhelmed by big heaps of food. Keep the portions child-sized and they're more likely to tackle everything they're served.
- Play with your food. Use cookie cutters to create fun shapes out of sliced fruit and veggies; create a forest out of broccoli florets; make a happy face with bananas, blueberries and strawberries.
- Let them get messy. Little kids aren't only concerned about taste. They need to explore texture, aroma, size, shape. Sit back and try to relax as they manhandle their food. Don't be alarmed (and try not to get too grossed out) if he chews on that carrot for a bit, then spits it out, then puts it back in his mouth or if she starts squashing peas with her index finger before scooping them up and eating them. Yes, table manners matter, but you'll have ample time to teach those after they've become big veggie-eaters (and mastered using full-sized silverware).
- Talk about your food. Even the littlest eaters have an opinion and will be more than happy to share it! You can discuss where your food comes from, talk about how it looks and tastes (and why they like or don't like it), explain why it's good for you.
- Resort (occasionally) to subterfuge and trickery. Do you have a ketchup fanatic? Let them dip everything on their plate in ketchup. If it gets them to eat cauliflower, you've cleared a hurdle! Will they only eat corn? Mix it in with whatever you're trying to get them to sample. Sneak veggies in to dishes your kids already enjoy when you can.
- Lead by example! If you're munching on cheeze doodles while expecting your kid to nosh on kale, you're facing a very tough road ahead. If your kids see you enjoying a wide variety of fruits and vegetables with every meal every day, they won't even think about following your example -- it will simply be second nature.