As parents, we all know the importance of having our children eat vegetables and fruits every day. However, we are also very familiar with our children's responses like "I don't like it", "Yuck", "It tastes funny", "No" and "I don't want it". Children usually react this way to new things especially, if they are a colour, smell, taste or texture that they are not accustomed to.
So what can we do. Here are some tips that can help.
- Offer different tastes early in life. As you introduce mashed vegetables to your baby, ensure that you are offering a wide variety of vegetables. Of course, when you start feeding you should try one vegetable at a time, to isolate any allergies. But once that is done, give the child the experience of various vegetables - one for lunch, one for dinner etc. This gets the baby used to different tastes.
- When pregnant and when breastfeeding, eat nutritious food with good vegetable content. This has been shown to help your child get used to these tastes1.
- When giving vegetables for the first time, keep trying again and again. Children need to see the same vegetables or fruits repeatedly to get used to them. As their exposure to the vegetable or fruit increases, their intake increases. Research1 shows that repeatedly offering a certain vegetable increases its intake. The research also found that even though babies showed facial expressions of disliking a vegetable, they continued to eat it. This suggests that parents should focus more on whether the child continues to eat the vegetable rather than on their facial expression.
- Do not force or threaten a child to eat vegetables. Be firm in explaining its advantages but never shove it down their throats.
- Eat with your child. Often seeing you eat, will encourage the child to eat. As their role model, you should also eat vegetables and fruits with every meal.
- Keep fruits handy at home. Bananas, apples, guavas are all fruits that can be easily eaten, after washing them well.
- Always serve vegetables and fruits with every meal.
- Kids generally do not like it when multiple vegetables are mixed together. Make them separately.
- Sandwiches (of whole grain bread) with vegetable filling, fruit milkshakes (without ice cream), and stuffed parathas are different options to help your child eat their vegetables and fruits.
- Pick a childcare or preschool that encourages healthy eating. Watching peers eat healthy food can increase your child's intake of vegetables and fruits also.
Rope them in
- Get your child involved in selecting vegetables and fruits. Even if you cannot take them to the market, ask them what they would like before going to the market.
- If your child is always selecting the same vegetable, don't ask them the open ended question - "What do you want to pick?". Instead give them a choice between two other vegetables - "Shall we buy brinjal or beans?". This gives children the feeling of having been a decision maker.
- Ask them to help you carry the vegetables, unpack them from the bags, wash them etc. You can even have them count the number of individual pieces, when putting them away.
Vegetables and fruits are fun
- Make vegetables fun. Bring some vegetables near the baby and use them as puppets. Make them jump around to entertain the child.
- Tell stories using vegetables. Make up character names for vegetables (like Mango Mala, Bunty Brinjal and Peter Potato).
- Explain to your child how each vegetable helps them.
- Celebrate colour days at home. Pick a colour and buy fruits and vegetables that match that colour. Get your child into the mood by dressing him in the same colour too. For example, on yellow day, you can eat mangoes and make cauliflower curry (a little turmeric would not hurt either).
- When cutting your vegetables, make some interesting shapes. For example, if you are slicing carrots, make some of the slices triangles. Make only a few of these and tell your children that they are hidden in the food.
1. Forestell, Catherine A., Mennella, Julie A., "Early Determinants of Fruit and Vegetable Acceptance", Pediatrics 2007 120: 1247-1254