When the neighborhood playground’s parents began to lament to me that they had trouble getting their little ones to eat fruits and vegetables as mine ran over eager for another strawberry, I offered them the following advice. Don’t give in rationalizing that he or she is just a “picky eater.” There are many creative and long lasting ways to get children to eat and love fruits and vegetables. You don’t always have to “hide” or “disguise” them in a meal. Although the old carrot in a muffin works, I believe that letting kids know that the yummy item is a fruit or veggie has a much deeper effect.
Starting with the basics by involving children in growing their own food will go a long way to get them to enjoy healthy eating. Plant a small garden with your child. Teaching them where food comes from and watching the joy on their faces as a pepper appears or a tomato grows red before their eyes, not only teaches them where food comes from it allows you to make sure at least some of their food is organic and pesticide free.
If you are short on space for a garden, find your local u-pick farm or co-op and make a day of picking fresh fruit and vegetables. It can make it more fun to eat the things that they themselves pull from the ground or a plant.
A fun way to get kids to try “new” fruit and vegetables is to make shopping a game. Choose two or three colors and let them choose a fruit or veggie from that color group to try. I’ve had countless hours of fun with the two little ones with this one; some successful (i.e. eggplant, jicama, and star fruit) and some not.
Another great way to accomplish this goal is to involve your child in the preparation of meals. Even the smallest of kids enjoy being a part of the cooking process. By helping to prepare meals you are presenting numerous opportunities for positive reinforcement: great job salting, stirring, and plating. The littlest of hoorahs and credit for a job well done in the kitchen will make a child proud and eager to taste the results of their contribution.
Sometimes, creating funny faces and shapes from fruit and veggies can be an incentive for kids to try something new or enjoy and old staple. Be creative. Find or create molds from their favorite TV or movie characters. If he loves Disney’s Cars movie, (and what little boy doesn’t?) he will likely at least try a watermelon shaped Lightening McQueen.
This may seem trite, but my most recommended thing to do to get more healthy fruits and vegetables into your child is to ‘lead by example.’ This may seem obvious, but many of us parents don’t eat sufficient fruits and vegetables. We care so much about doing the right thing by our kids that we forget that we must abide by the ‘do as I do’ not just ‘do as I say’ edict.
These are just a few suggestions to foster long lasting, healthy eating habits in your child. But as I always recommend, browse a couple of sources. Take a few hints from here and there; and of course there’s always the” hide and disguise” technique. You can find some of those healthy and yummy recipes at Shahiya.com.