Picky eaters make dinnertime difficult and cause parents to worry. The USDA recommends that children under the age of eight years old consume 1-1.5 cups of vegetables each day. We all know that eating fruits and vegetables is the foundation for health, but it’s especially important for young children as they grow and develop at an accelerated rate. Ben Patterson is a self-coined “modern dad” (the primary caregiver to his four young children) and wellness consultant for The Juice Plus Company. He works with families and athletes alike to inspire healthy living and whole food nutrition. Ben shares his tried and true tips for effectively adding extra vegetables to your child’s plate.
Catch Them When They’re Hungry
Patterson says his best “trick” is to offer veggies when children are hungry. “I like to catch them when they are the weakest…if kids truly are hungry, and not just craving junk, they’ll eat anything you put in front of them, even dreaded veggies!” In real life this looks like setting out a plate of sliced vegetables and dip (such as hummus or guacamole) for the family to snack on while you prepare dinner.
Include the Kids
Allow your child to pick out one fruit and one vegetable during your grocery shopping trip. It’s a bonus if it’s something they’ve never tried before. Amazon.com sells cut resistant gloves and nylon kid-safe knife sets to allow children to safely work in the kitchen. Children who help prepare food are more likely to eat it. Finally, garden with your children! “If a kid helps grow produce every step of the way (seed to harvest), their pride and curiosity are going to assure that they, at the very least, will try it. Research has proven that kids who are taught to garden will eat more fruits and veggies throughout their lifetimes,” explains Patterson
All Day Veggie Buffet
Keep produce on the counter or pre-portioned in a lower drawer of the refrigerator for easy access to little hands. Consider allowing your children to snack on fruits or vegetables without asking permission. If they want something other than produce (i.e. packaged), then they must ask permission, allowing you to evaluate whether or not they are hungry or craving something less than healthy.
The “No Thank You Bite”
Patterson shares his mealtime rule that gets kids trying something new. “Every meal, our kids know they have to at least take one bite of everything on their plate. We call this a ‘no thank you bite.’ It helps a child realize that something isn’t quite as bad as they thought or that they actually like the taste of the veggie that didn’t look so great on their plate.” If they truly don’t like what they’ve tasted, kids can politely say, “no thank you.” Different kids have different tastes, so offer a variety of veggies!
Lead by Example
Parents need to be the example. Kids eat what they’re taught to eat. Good or bad, kids eat what is available to eat in their house. The USDA recommended 7-13 servings of fruits & veggies every day. That recommendation isn’t just for kids!