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When both of my children were toddlers they were great about eating a large variety of fruits and vegetables. They hadn't yet developed the green foods fear. Is that taught in school? Now that they are both in school they have taken the "no green food" pact and have become much more fruit and vegetable picky. It seems that one day strawberries are acceptable and the next day it is a forbidden fruit. Even though I get frustrated with them for being picky I know that it will do no good to force them or make them feel bad about not eating certain foods. My job as a parent is to introduce and reintroduce a variety of fruit and vegetables to them. Here are 10 ways I've supported and motivated my kids to try and enjoy fruits and vegetables.

  1. Grow it.
    From my experience with my own children and the children that I teach if they have any part in growing a fruit or vegetable they are almost 100% more likely to try it. Even if they try it you are not guaranteed they will like it. It may take up to 10 different exposures to a food in order to eventually like it.
  2. Play with Their Food.
    Give your children a variety of different foods such as pretzels, cheese sticks, blueberries, etc. and ask them to make a face or a bug out of it. When they are done take a picture of them with their creation and send it to grandma. I bet after they are done they will take extra pride in eating their snack creation.
  3. Pairing New with the Old.
    Offer a new fruit or vegetable with one of their favorite foods. This will make them more comfortable and more likely to try something new.
  4. Serve Themselves.
    Even children as young as 2 can serve themselves some foods out a bowl or platter with assistance. It is an easy way to get them involved in a meal and let them decide how much they want to serve themselves, of course with your guidance.
  5. Peer Pressure.
    Studies have shown that your children's peers have one of the biggest influences on the foods your child will eat.  My daughter has a friend that will eat anything. So when she is over for dinner I like to offer fruits or vegetables that my daughter may have not eaten in the past.  It works like a charm. If her friend will eat it, she will too.
  6. Hide it.
    Not my favorite approach, simply because I never seem to get away with it. However, many of my friends are very successful at hiding them in their children's meals. For example, using roasted butternut squash and putting it in macaroni and cheese. This technique probably works best if you start when your children are young and then they will just grow up thinking their mom makes extra special mac and cheese.
  7. Hungry.
    I have found the best time to introduce a new fruit or vegetables to my children is when they are hunger. Getting home after 5 o'clock and trying to get dinner done ASAP is so stressful. To buy me some time I often offer my kids a fruit or vegetable (a small bowl of raspberries, grapes, carrots, etc.) to eat until dinner is ready.
  8. Wash, Peel, Cut, Stir.
    Providing children with simple roles in preparing fruits and vegetables empowers them to try and like them. My daughter loves chopping up fruits and vegetables. We work side by side together each with our own cutting board and knife (hers is a toddler size butter knife). Every time she has helped me prepare food, no matter how small her task she will try the food and usually like it.
  9. Canned, Fresh, Frozen.
    There is a lot of debate if frozen and canned is as nutritious as fresh produce. The short answer is "yes." In many cases produce is canned or frozen at its peak ripeness while at its highest nutritional value, and the nutritional value is maintained. When choosing canned fruits buy no sugar added or in light syrup. For canned vegetable look for sodium free or low in sodium. Let's face it most of our kids aren’t eating nearly enough fruits and vegetables so mix it up and get them in a variety of different ways.
  10. Offer it with Dessert.
    My co-worker shared a great way to take the spotlight off of dessert. Instead of telling your child, "If you eat all of your vegetables, you will get dessert." Try serving dessert along with your meal, yep right beside the fruit and veggies.  This helps promote listening to fullness cues and not stuffing down dessert after a meal. Sure if this is new to them they will go right for the dessert first, so let them but give it some time and you may be surprised with the outcome.  

I'd love to hear from you other ways you have successfully gotten your children to try and like fruits and vegetables.

Carrie Miller MS RD

Registered Dietitian from UNL Extension

Carrie Miller is a mother of two and Registered Dietitian with a Master degree in Nutritional Science and Dietetics. Carrie has worked at UNL Extension in Omaha for over 12 years managing the Nutrition Education Program and teaching limited resource audiences. Special interests include feeding children healthy, fun foods, and finding time to get outside and be active. Learn more about Carrie and the other UNL Extension nutrition experts at NutritionKnowHow.org. ...

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