Getting kids to eat their fruits and veggies doesn’t have to be an epic battle or colossal undertaking. The parents I have seen in our Primary Care Clinic who have been the most successful at it have adopted four similar habits. They’re simple habits that just about any family can start in their household:
Habit #1: They get their kids involved. These parents have realized that children are more likely to eat produce if they picked it out or helped to prepare it. They also take their kids to the grocery store often and allow them to pick out which fruits and vegetables they want. They allow their younger kids to stir the fruit salad and sprinkle cheese and place veggies on pizza. Their older kids wash vegetables, assemble ingredients, and read and follow recipes.
Parents have said that once their kids get in the habit of helping, the possibilities are really endless. And bonus: they’ve found that the earlier their kids help prepare meals, the younger they’re able to prepare meals on their own.
Habit #2: They go to farmers’ markets. These families know that when produce is bought from a farmer’s market, it is typically fresher, tastes better, and is more nutritious because it’s sold closer to when it was harvested. Families have also noted that it helps their kids understand where food comes from and farmers have even answered their kids’ tough questions, like exactly how does milk come from a cow?
Farmers’ markets are readily available, and depending upon where you live, even available on all days of the week. Here is a list of ones we’re aware of in Cincinnati.
Habit #3: They plant gardens. These parents have learned that kids love to get their hands dirty and watch things grow. And planting a garden is the perfect activity for children to learn how to grow what they eat. They allow their children to help plant and water the vegetables. Parents have told me that their kids look forward to going outside each day to see how their plants are progressing, and really like harvesting once they’re ready to pick. The key is to start small with just a couple of plants the first year while you’re getting the hang of it.
I have seen families living in apartments have success with planting gardens, too. Some have put tomato plants and herbs in pots out on the patio or terrace, while others have participated in community gardens.
Habit #4: They model the behavior they want. This group of parents has picked up on a key component of learned behavior. They know that their children will follow what they do, and if they eat fruits and vegetables themselves, their children will be more likely to do the same.
The majority of families I see in clinic know how important a healthy diet is to overall well-being, but struggle with how to get their families started on the right track. The ones that have been the most successful at it have started off small with these four habits, and are now getting their children to eat the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
With more than a third of U.S. children and teens overweight or obese, it’s now more important than ever to teach our children the importance of healthy eating. And forming healthy eating habits, like eating fruits and vegetables with most meals, is one step in the right direction.
Editor’s note: To read more articles like this, visit our Young & Healthy page.