The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently came out with the “Choose My Plate” campaign to encourage healthy eating. You can visit www.choosemyplate.gov for more information. They recommend that half your plate be fruits and vegetables. When I talk with children and adolescents about their diets, I find many of them are having trouble getting enough servings of fruits and vegetables in their diet. The recommendation is 5 servings a day. That means a fruit or vegetable at every meal, maybe even both, and probably fruits or vegetables for snacks as well to be able to meet that goal. Fruits and vegetables are high in essential nutrients for good health, have fiber for digestive health, and are often lower in calories than other food choices.
Many children tell me that they don’t like vegetables. I always encourage them to try at least a taste. Vegetables that they thought they didn’t like, may taste better to them if made in a new way. The parent’s job is to offer their kids healthy choices at each meal and for snacks. It is the child’s job to choose to eat them. Some ways to encourage children to eat vegetables:
- Model eating vegetables on a regular basis.
- Have them help you plant and take care of a vegetable garden. They may be more willing to eat something they helped grow.
- Use dips or sauces to add flavor (many children like ranch dressing or melted cheese).
- Have them participate making foods with vegetables. One idea to make it fun is to make a 3 inch slice of celery into a car. Use peanut butter in the center for protein, this will hold raisins upright in the “car” as drivers and passengers, and place round slices of carrots on toothpicks pushed through the piece of celery to make the wheels.
- Cook shavings or small pieces of vegetable in foods that children like such as spaghetti sauce to add nutrients (e.g. carrots, green pepper).
- Try the “Cheetos Cheat” (recently seen on Dr. Oz). Crumble Cheetos on steamed broccoli to add flavor and crunch.
- Experiment with child friendly recipes. See the “Choose My Plate” web site for ideas. The Healthy Lunch Challenge Cookbook has 54 recipes from America’s Jr. Chefs sponsored by an event at the White House hosted by the President and Mrs. Obama.
- For older kids, have a contest on preparing the tastiest veggies.