Trish Zecca, MS
As parents, we often worry that our kids (of all ages) aren’t getting enough fruits and vegetables—and for good reason. These nutrient-dense foods are chock-full of essential vitamins and minerals, as well as health-promoting phytonutrients. But unfortunately, American children are eating fewer vegetables and fruits than the Dietary Guidelines recommends.1
If your kids aren’t getting enough, September is Fruits & Veggies—More Matters® Month, the perfect time to focus on these two nutritious and delicious food groups! If you’re thinking, it’s a chore to get my kids to eat vegetables and fruits, don’t worry. It can take 8-10 tries before a child will accept a new food.2 With a little effort and creativity, before you know it they’ll be saying, “More, please!”One of the best strategies I have found is to involve your kids in the meal preparation and give them options. We make homemade pizza fairly often at our house and all hands are on deck to help. Together we select a variety of toppings including lots of veggies and different low-fat cheeses, then the kids build their own pizza. On the occasion pictured here, my 12 year old son’s picks were roasted corn, caramelized onions and sautéed greens with a little Monterey jack and cheddar cheese—delicious! Who would believe me if I didn’t have proof?
If your kids are picky when it comes to eating fruits and veggies, here are some other simple strategies to help change their tune (P.S. These work well with my husband too!):
- Let them shop. Let your child select a new vegetable or fruit at the grocery store or farmers’ market to try. They’ll be more likely to eat something they picked out!
- Get them cooking. The same goes here, if children help make the food, they’re more willing to try it. So pick out a recipe with veggies or fruits and let them take ownership of washing the produce, measuring the ingredients, stirring—whatever is appropriate for their age.
- Serve it first. Offer a new veggie or fruit as an appetizer or at the beginning of the meal, when kids are most hungry.
- Make it familiar. Pair a new fruit or veggie with favorite or familiar foods to increase acceptance.
- Make it fun. For young children cut up a colorful variety of vegetables and arrange them in smiley faces or animal shapes. Serve hummus or low-fat dressing on the side as a fun dip.
- Cook, serve, repeat. Expose kids to a variety of vegetables and fruits, cooked or prepared in different ways, and serve them more than one time. A cooked veggie disliked today may be their favorite raw veggie next month.
- Be a role model. Try new foods with your kids, as they will be less likely to try or eat something you won’t.
Word of the wise. Often when trying to encourage our kids to eat right, we don’t realize how much our words impact their eating behavior. For example, if kids are told they aren’t allowed to have dessert if they don’t eat their vegetables, they’ll associate vegetables with a potentially negative outcome. Keep the conversation positive and verbally praise efforts to even taste or try new foods. Check out other ways you can transform negative phrases into positive ones here.
Closing the gap. Campbell offers hundreds of products that can help you and your family get more vegetable and/or fruit servings. Try some of these delicious options…they are great timesavers as well!
- Campbell’s® Condensed Tomato soup – Classic, convenient, and healthy, this soup provides ¾ cup vegetables per serving. Perfect side to a simple sandwich.
- V8® Low Sodium Spicy Hot 100% Vegetable juice - Packs just the right amount of heat and is delicious enjoyed by itself, used as a base for stews or transformed into an adult Bloody Mary!
- Bolthouse Farms® Veggie Snackers – Kids (and adults) will love these single serve packs of carrots. Pull and shake to release the seasoning for a quick, delicious on-the-go snack.
- Bolthouse Farms® dressings are perfect for dipping vegetables.
- V8® Fruit & Vegetable Blends – Available in a variety of flavors. Pack them in lunches or turn them into popsicles!
- From Plum Organics® Second Blends Apples, Spinach & Avocado baby food, to Fruit & Veggie Mashups for kids, Plum Organics offers a variety of products that exposes your little ones to veggies and fruits at a young age.
For more information on fruits, veggies, and ways to get the kids involved, visit the Produce for Better Health Foundation’s Fruits & Veggies—More Matters® website.
Remember, more matters!
Trish is Senior Program Manager of Health Sciences and Regulatory Affairs where she manages nutrition operations and communications. She is the lead nutritionist for Soup & Simple Meals and directs communications for campbellnutrition.com, health professional conferences and stakeholder engagement. She received her Bachelor and Master’s degrees in nutrition science from the Pennsylvania State University, and is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Society for Nutrition. Trish has more than 20 years of experience in various areas of public health and the food industry. Her expertise includes USDA regulation, nutrition education, training, and communications.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables, 2013. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/downloads/State-Indicator-Report-Fruits-Vegetables-2013.pdf. Accessed July 15, 2014.
- Birch LL: Children’s food acceptance patterns. Annales Nestlé 1998;56:1–10.