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Getting Your Kids to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables: Practical Tips

Updated on July 20, 2012

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.

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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:

  • 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:

Source
  • 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.

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    • LauraGT profile image
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      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Betty Reid: Spaghetti squash is a great one! I should throw that in a lasagna!

    • Betty Reid profile image

      Betty Reid 5 years ago from Texas

      LauraGT, I finally tried spaghetti squash. It really tasted good with spaghetti sauce.

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Betty Reid: I'm making stuffed shells right now - shredding up some carrots and zucchini to add! :)

    • Betty Reid profile image

      Betty Reid 5 years ago from Texas

      Great ideas. Maybe I'll sneak some extra veggies into the next pasta dish.

    • lhchan profile image

      lhchan 5 years ago

      Thanks very much for all the useful tips and suggestion, nice to read.

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Thanks for reading Diana! Yes, color nights are a lot of fun! We sometimes have to be creative with the protein and carb options. We've had lots of different colored eggs! Thanks food dye! :)

    • Diana Grant profile image

      Diana Grant 5 years ago from London

      I loved your suggestion of Colour Nights - I only wish I had thought of that for my children and even my grandchildren. Too late now, I'll have to wait for great-grand-children, and tell them!

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Thanks Boston Mom! Daring kids is a great way to get them to do lots of things. Before you know it, the whole veggie face will disappear! :)

    • profile image

      Boston Mom 5 years ago

      Great advice Laura - never thought of daring kids to eat the eyes, love it! There's going to be an Eye Dare on the menu tomorrow night.

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Thanks Trainer Ben Gamon! I think parents definitely want to do what's best for their kids. They just need the tools and support to make it happen. Thanks for the contribution!

    • profile image

      trainer ben gamon 5 years ago

      LAURA!! amazing hub!! seriously!! I wish more people, ans specially more parents were like you, so we would have this childhood obesity situation. That's a great hub. I will link your hub to mine: http://trainerbengamon.hubpages.com/hub/How-to-fig...

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Thanks Roxanne! I only recently discovered how to cook cauliflower this way and now we have it at least once per week. Let me know how it goes!

    • roxanne459 profile image

      Roxanne Lewis 5 years ago from Washington

      Great ideas! We also have a bowl of fruit on the table at all times and making a well arranged veggie platter makes everyone want to have some! (inspite of themselves) I have tried different ways to cook Cauliflower but I still only like them raw, until now! I am definitely going to try your roasted cauliflower idea today. Thanks! ;)