Getting Your Kids to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables: Practical Tips
We all know that eating fruits and vegetables has many health benefits, from helping with weight maintenance or weight loss to protecting against chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.
At the same time, many parents struggle on a daily basis with how to increase fruit and vegetable intake in their children. This article provides practical tips and advice on how to increase your kids fruit and vegetable intake.
Always have fruit and vegetables available and easily accessible
- Have a full and varied fruit bowl in a prominent location in your kitchen. Our fruit bowl is always brimming over with apples, bananas, and oranges, plus whatever fruits are in season: grapefruit, pears, melons, kiwi, and dragon fruit are some of our favorites. My kids know that it’s always OK to have whatever they want from the fruit bowl.
- Have cut up vegetables in individual sized portions in the fridge. Carrots, celery, cucumbers, and grape tomatoes make great snacks! Keep a few baggies in easy to reach spots in your fridge.
- Have a “crudite” appetizer course at dinner. Have a plate of nicely displayed carrots, celery, cucumbers, and grape tomatoes available while you're getting dinner ready. This way, when the pre-dinner hunger whining starts, there is a healthy snack ready and waiting. I include individual sized “dips” (ranch or honey mustard dressing or hummus) for each of my children.
- Offer up a salad sundae. Inspired by a ranch dressing ad where the ice cream sundae from a Norman Rockwell painting is replaced by a salad covered in ranch dressing, “salad sundaes” have become a regularly requested "treat" in my house. An alternative to a crudite platter, the salad sundae can include leaves of lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, and celery, with a grape tomato on top of course!
- Have a "fruit course" after dinner. Having a fruit will course ensure that you're kids are getting some fiber. In our family it's usually as simple as a banana, some strawberries, or sliced apple. If you can wing it, have the fruit course in place of a sugary dessert!
Have color nights
Let your child pick a color, and then only cook food that is that color. Here are some of our favorite fruits and vegetables from each color category.
- Red: Apples, cherries, cranberries, watermelon, raspberries, strawberries, beets, red peppers, tomatoes.
- Orange. Oranges (of course), cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin.
- Yellow: Bananas, yellow plums, pineapple, yellow beets, corn, yellow peppers, squash.
- Blue: Blueberries, plums, purple aspargus, eggplant.,purple potatoes.
- Green: Avocados, green apples, green grapes, honeydew, kiwi, peas, asparagus, broccoli, brussel sprouts (a.k.a., “mini lettuce heads!”), celery, and baby spinach.
Take your kids shopping
Take your kids to the store with you. Let them choose one fruit or vegetable they want to try. When you get home, look up and read facts about that item:
- Where does it originate from?
- When is it in season?
- What’s the history of the fruit/vegetable?
- How can it be used?
Then, find a recipe a recipe and have your kid help cook it!
Sneak in vegetables
While I’m a big fan of kids eating their veggies outright, I know some kids are not always cooperative. Sneaking them in wherever possible helps improve their nutritional intake and also exposes them to the new tastes (even if they don’t realize it!) In this case, what they don’t know, will most definitely not hurt them. Here are some of the easiest places to sneak in some vegetables:
- Lasagna. See my hub 10-Minute Prep Kid Friendly Lasagna for ideas on how to get veggies into a lasagna.
- Soups. Add peas, onions, carrots, celery and zucchini. This will increase the nutritional value and often add some good taste! My kids love eating soup out of one of those fancy bowls with a straw attached.
- Meatloaf. This is another place where shredded veggies - carrots, zucchini, and mushrooms - will not even be noticed.
- Shakes. It's amazing what you can put in a shake into a shake! Use frozen berries as a base, and then add chard, kale, and spinach. Flaxseeds or chia seeds will also be ground up and unnoticed. For liquid, use water, milk, or lemonade. I also like to add yogurt for a better texture.
Try different methods of cooking
Roasted, steamed, sauteed, and even frozen - if your kids don’t like it one way, try another. My daughter absolutely loves eating frozen vegetables. She’ll pound down handfuls of frozen peas and corn. Here are some of the favorite cooked vegetables in our household:
- Roasted cauliflower. Heat oven to 400. Chop up a head of cauliflower. Place the cauliflower on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss. Cook in the oven, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, about 40-45 minutes. The cauliflower ends up tasting like french fries and my kids love it!
- Steamed broccoli. Heat about 1-2 inches of water in a small pot. Cut up a head of broccoli. Once the water is boiling, add the broccoli. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 7 minutes. Drain. Add some butter and salt. Enjoy!
- Corn on the Cob. Heat up some water in a steaming pot. Add shucked corn. Cover and steam for about 10 minutes, depending on how fresh the corn is. Give at least 5 minutes of cooling time or run under cold water before serving.
- Stuffed things. Zucchini boats, stuffed red peppers, and stuffed tomatoes. For some reason, turning vegetables into bowls or boats make them more appealing. Look online for many interesting recipes.
Words of Wisdom
- Keep trying. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again! Kids change, tastes change. There was a period of about a year when my son did not eat a single vegetable (knowingly at least!). Now, he frequently asks for salad sundaes and uses baby spinach, rather than flour tortillas, as burrito wrappers (see my hub Build Your Own Burrito Bar).
- Don’t force it. I’m a big fan of asking my kids try new things, but forcing them to eat something they really don’t like can be counter-productive. Give your kids lots of opportunities to eat healthy foods and model good eating habits and eventually most kids will come around.
- Eat socially with other kids and families. Sometimes just seeing other kids eating something will encourage your kids to try it, even if they previously have deemed it “yucky.”
- Make it fun! Broccoli trees, “baby” spinach leaves, mini lettuce heads (brussel sprouts) can be fun to eat. Making funny faces with foods and then daring your kids to eat the "eyes" can work wonders.
- Eat out sometimes. Eating out can be a great way to give yourself a break and to have your kids try new foods. See my hub Eating Out With Kids: Benefits and Tips.
Here are more great hubs on kids' food
- Top Kid-Friendly Vegetable Side Dishes
This hub provides quick and easy ways to cook kid-friendly vegetables. One for every night of the week!
- Kid-Friendly Roasted Cauliflower
Cauliflower is highly nutritiously while being low fat and low calorie. Cooked the right way, even kids will gobble up this healthy vegetable. This article describes the health benefits of cauliflower and then gives a simple recipe for roasted caulif
- Brussels Sprouts for Kids: No, Really!
Brussels sprouts may not be the first vegetable you think of when you think about “kid-friendly” veggies. But, these extremely health-packed “little lettuce heads” can be delicious, especially when cooked with raisins! This article describes the heal
- 10-Minute Prep Kid-Friendly Lasagna
Making lasagna can be quick and easy, as well as healthy. This recipe describes how to make a basic lasagna and shows ways to add or substitute healthy ingredients in a way that result in a healthy and delicious meal that will be enjoyed by the whole
- "Build Your Own" Meals Kids Love: Burrito Bar
Making a Build Your Own Burrito Bar is a quick and easy way to involve your kids in meal preparation and get them to try new foods. This article describes how to create a Burrito Bar and gives fresh new ideas for ingredients that can be used as filli
- Eating Out with Kids: Benefits and Tips
Eating out in restaurants with kids has many benefits. This article describes how eating out can help your kids try new foods, train them in proper restaurant behavior, and provides a much needed break from the kitchen. It also gives tips for making