Every day on the news we hear stories about childhood obesity, programs to improve the foods served at schools, or the garden at the White House. But have you learned the steps you can take to encourage your children, grandchildren, or the children in your scout troop or 4-H club to try healthier foods like vegetables or fruits? A recent research report from the USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which provides vegetables and fruits to students in low income areas, found that when children are introduced to fresh vegetables or fruits they will try them. Students in the program who tried a vegetable were shown to eat most or all of it 60% of the time, and those who tried a fruit ate most or all of it 85% of the time. The study also found that when these fresh vegetables and fruits were offered to students as a snack, almost every child tried one. So if you have a picky eater, have you encouraged them to try something new lately? Here are a few tips to encourage the children (or even picky adults) in your life to try new healthier foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, or low fat dairy products:
- Let your child select the new food to try – for example encourage them to select one new vegetable each time you grocery shop.
- Allow your child to help with part of the food preparation – can they select the recipe used, wash the food, get out the bowl, or mix up the ingredients? Think safety though and know when they are old enough to use knives or be close to the stove.
- Be sure to serve a food you know they enjoy with the new food.
- If you have always served the food one way – try a new way or recipe. Do you always serve steamed broccoli – think fresh or stir fry next time.
- Serve the food when you know your child is hungry, not after they have filled up on other foods. Try serving a new vegetable or fruit as a snack.
- Set a good example, if children see adults eat a food they will usually try it, but if the adults complain, the child will too.
- Encourage older children to be “Food Explorers”. Remind them that many of our favorite foods came from different parts of the world. Assist them with them investigating the country of origin for a food, how it was traditionally prepared, or how it may have made its way to other parts of the world. This is a great project for elementary aged children, and may even be a way to incorporate their Social Studies classes into your meals at home.
- Serve the food creatively or attractively – cut it into a cute shape or put it on a colorful plate.
- Do not battle over foods – encourage children to at least try one bite. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to eat it – but you aren’t fixing them something else. Don’t be a short order cook!
It may take children 10 to 12 tries of a new food before they enjoy it. But by trying a few of these tips you should encourage your family to try a few new foods, and remember – you probably didn’t like every food the first time you tried it either. I know it took me a while before I liked asparagus.
Writer: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Ross County, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reviewed by: Linnette Goard, Field Specialist, Food Safety, Selection and Management, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension.
Creative Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat, The University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
Clever Ways Parents Get Children to Eat Their Vegetables, University of Missouri Extension, http://extension.missouri.edu.
Oregon State, Agriculture in the Classroom, http://aitc.oregonstate.edu/teachers/pdf/handson/foodexplorer1.pdf.