How You Can Help Your Youngster Eat More Fruits and Veggies

Kids don't eat enough fresh food --- here's how to change that
How You Can Help Your Youngster Eat More Fruits and Veggies

Contributor: Kadakkal Radhakrishnan, MD

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Getting children to eat more vegetables and fruits is an ongoing struggle that many parents face.

In a country filled with readily available processed and high-calorie foods, our eating habits have changed greatly – and so has kids’ liking of fruits and veggies.

One of that factors playing a role in the rise of childhood obesity is the relative lack of fruits and veggies in diets. Incredibly, from 2007 to 2010, nine out of 10 children did not eat the optimal amounts of fruits and vegetables.

The role of fruits and vegetables

From a nutrition standpoint, fruits and vegetables are a great source of fiber; they’re natural and free of preservatives; and they’re relatively lower in calories for a given quantity. As a result, they play a good role in reducing the risk of constipation and obesity.

Fruits and veggies are also a great source of vitamins and minerals, and over time, good amounts of fruits and vegetables in the diet have been shown to decrease the incidence of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, plus reduce the long-term risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.

Moreover, from a child’s perspective, fruits and vegetables come in a variety of rainbow-like colors and texture and add variety to the diet. Despite their bright and captivating colors, however, getting your child to enjoy the taste can be a difficult challenge.

And why is it so important to get little ones to eat more fruits and veggies? Again, the incidence of childhood obesity has increased, and one of the reasons is a higher consumption of carbohydrate-rich and higher caloric foods and beverages in a child’s diet.

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Childhood obesity increases the risk of obesity into adulthood, plus all the diseases related to obesity. Promoting good eating in childhood — including better intake of fruits and vegetables — can therefore play a strong role in reducing the risk of obesity in the population.

Making the process easier

Most parents know it’s difficult to rationalize with little kids regarding the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables. It’s a task that requires patience and persistence.

However, it’s important to note that the eating habits of children often mirror those of Mom and Dad. So parents should ensure that fruits and vegetables are as much a part of their diet as their child’s. Make family meal times a priority, and include healthy and nutritious meal options on everyone’s plate.

The earlier fruits and vegetables are introduced into a child’s diet, the better they will be accepted and tolerated. Including your little one in daily food options has been shown to improve acceptance of healthy food options in general.

This can include your child making choices while grocery shopping, helping to make a weekly food planner of school lunches or having him or her help with prep work at dinnertime. Rotating fruits and vegetable options also has been shown to avoid monotony and improve acceptance.

Getting creative with foods

It’s necessary for parents to be creative in helping their child learn to enjoy fruits and vegetables.

For example, slicing apples into small pieces and sprinkling a small amount of sugar or adding a small amount of whipped cream helped our son better accept the fruit when he was a toddler.

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I’ve also known parents who have sliced vegetables like carrots and peppers into small shapes to pique their child’s interest. Using a small amount of hummus or vegetable dips is another easy option.

Eating healthy meals should be fun for your family, and it’s important your child is a part of the process as much as you are. If your child refuses a fruit or vegetable, don’t give up! Offer that food again and again at later dates — doing so has been shown to improve acceptance over time.

As children become older, you can begin to discuss the importance of eating fruits and vegetable in ways that he or she can understand.

Stressing over your child’s lack of desire to eat nutritious foods can become counterproductive. If this becomes a struggle and overall burden for you and your family, I encourage you to seek advice from your pediatrician. Seeking help from a pediatric dietitian could also be worthwhile if you need help with portion sizes for fruits and vegetables and other dietary components for your child.

This post is based on one of a series of articles produced by U.S. News & World Report in association with the medical experts at Cleveland Clinic. 

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