Submitted by SNAP-Ed Coordinator, AnneCherise Jensen
In today’s day and age, it can be a challenge to get kids to eat their fruits and vegetables. With processed and fast foods so easily convenient, getting kids to eat a healthy well balanced meal can be a chore. However, it’s extremely important that kids eat foods high in nutrients to ensure their growth is adequate going into adulthood. Most children and teens need to eat every 3-4 hours throughout the day to fuel their growing, active bodies. Children should be eating 3 meals and 1-2 snacks a day. If they are more physically active or going through a growth spurt, they may require even more nutritious snacks. It’s recommended to have a total of at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. This can mean 2 servings of fruits and 3 servings of vegetables, or 1 serving of vegetables and 4 servings of fruits. Here are some easy tricks to help get your children to eat a more well balanced diet!
Offer Taste Testings: Children are often hesitant when trying new foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Try offering taste testings frequently, especially while kids are young. This will get them in the habit of trying new foods and exploring their taste buds. Talk about what qualities they experience while trying new foods – is it sour, salty or sweet? What is the texture like? What color is the food? What does it look like and where does it come from? Having in depth conversations like this with children while they are young will help them develop a healthy relationship with food as they grow. They may not end up liking all the foods they try, but they will find new foods they do like along the way. The important part is, encouraging them to try.
Make Meals Simple: Don’t over season or make meals complicated. The simpler, less seasoned the dish is, the more likely the children will eat the desired food. Kids taste buds are much more sensitive at a young age, and tend to gravitate to simple flavors. Try to limit excessive sweetened or saltend foods, also.
Sneak In Healthy Ingredients: Can’t get your kids to try fruits and vegetables? Try sneaking them into foods. If you cut up produce small enough, once it’s cooked into the dish, children may not even notice they are there. Onions, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, and spinach are common vegetables that can be snuck into any pasta, soup or casserole dish.
Allow kids to have a say in the produce department: Plan a fun trip to a grocery store or farmers market with your children. If you are limiting the number of household members shopping at one time, kids can help make the shopping list. Allow kids to have a say in what produce is chosen. Have your kids take a look at some recipe books and encourage them to pick out healthy recipes. The more you involve the children in the process, the more inclined they will eat the fruits and vegetables once you are home.
Invite kids to cook with you in the kitchen: The best way to teach kids about eating right, is getting them involved in the kitchen. Cooking is a valuable life skill that teaches children about nutrition and food safety, as well as building math, science, literacy and fine motor skills. Chores your children can do in the kitchen include; rinsing produce in the sink, tearing lettuce, slicing fruits and vegetables, cooking with the microwave oven, creating a fruit and vegetable tray, and setting the table for dinner time.
Parents as Role Models: Many children will eat foods and follow eating patterns their parents and older family members set. Lead by example. Choose to eat a wide variety of healthy meals, and be the example your children need. They may fight eating healthy foods while they are young, but as they get older and their taste buds change, they will most likely eat foods their parents and role models eat at the dinner table.
Here are some kid friendly fruit and vegetable ideas to try at home:
- Homemade Smoothies : Give kids the opportunity to create their own smoothie creation! Blend together plain low-fat yogurt, preferred milk product or even coconut water with fruit pieces and crushed ice. Try frozen or fresh bananas, berries, peaches, grapes, mangos and cherries. This is also a great opportunity to sneak in vegetables without children detecting flavor.
- Healthy Dips for Fruit & Veggie Trays: Kids love to dip their foods. Try making some healthy fruit and veggies dips that increase both flavor and nutritional value of the snack. Whip up a quick dip for veggies with plain yogurt and seasonings such as herbs or garlic. Serve with raw vegetables like broccoli, carrots, or cauliflower. Fruit chunks go great with yogurt and cinnamon or vanilla dip.
- Colorful kabobs: Assemble chunks of melon, apple, oranges, strawberries, bananas and pears on skewers or toothpicks for a fun fruity kabob. For a veggie version, use vegetables like sugar snap peas, zucchini, cucumber, squash, sweet peppers, or tomatoes.
- Personalized pizzas: Create a pizza-making station in the kitchen. Use whole-wheat English muffins, bagels, or pita bread as the crust. Have tomato sauce, low-fat cheese, and cut-up vegetables or fruits for toppings, like pineapple, peppers and mushrooms. Let kids choose their own favorites, then pop the pizzas into the oven to warm.
- Apple Slice Cookies: Rather than offering cookies for dessert, try making apple slice cookies instead. Slice the apple into thin slices, add your favorite nut butter, then top with your favorite toppings. This could include chocolate chips, coconut, dried fruit, honey and nuts.
- Frosty fruits : Frozen treats are especially popular during the summer months. Try putting fresh fruits such as watermelon, grapes, or strawberries in the freezer for a cold treat. Make “popsicles” by inserting sticks into peeled bananas and freezing.
- Bugs on a log: Use celery, cucumber, or carrot sticks as the log and add peanut or almond butter. Top with dried fruit such as raisins, cranberries, or cherries, depending on how your children want to decorate their bugs!
- Homemade trail mix : Skip the pre-made trail mix and make your own. This is a fun project kids can get involved with in the kitchen. Use your favorite nuts and dried fruits, such as unsalted cashews, walnuts, almonds, peanuts or sunflower seeds mixed with dried apples, pineapple, cherries, apricots, or mango. For even more nutrients, add whole-grain cereals to the mix, too.
- Potato Face: Decorate a baked potato. Use sliced cherry tomatoes, corn, peas, beans and low-fat cheese on the potato to make a funny face.
- Nibble on lean protein: Protein helps keep us full for a longer period of time and are ultimately great snacks to have convenient in the kitchen. Choose lean protein foods such as, beans, unsalted nuts and seeds, nut and seed butters, eggs, or plain low-fat yogurt orcheeses. Store boiled eggs in the refrigerator for kids to enjoy any time.
- Jazz up your favorite cereal: Try adding fresh fruit like strawberries, blueberries or bananas to kids cereal in the morning. This is an easy way to get them to eat fresh fruit. If it works well, you could even try adding almond flakes for even more nutritional value.
- Liven Up Your Toast: Instead of choosing white bread, choose a whole grain bread that offers more fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Get creative and add peanut butter and strawberries, or an avocado and tomato slice.
Homemade Frozen Yogurt
- 4 cups frozen strawberries or mixed berries
- 1 cup low fat or fat free greek yogurt (If you are sensitive to dairy, most stores carry coconut based, dairy free yogurt options)
- 2 Tablespoons honey
- 2 lime or lemon wedges
- Add frozen fruit, yogurt and honey into a blender or food processor.
- Squeeze in the lemon or lime juice.
- Mix and blend well for 3-5 minutes.
- Serve immediately, or store in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
Note: You can substitute or add any fruit ingredients into the frozen yogurt. Try adding peaches, bananas or even some coconut flakes to give it more flavor and texture. This is a great time to get creative in the kitchen, the possibilities are endless!
**This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP. This institution is an equal opportunity provider.