Most Americans don't eat enough fruit and vegetables. Researchers and food pyramid guidelines show most families could benefit from doubling the amount they eat each day.
Experts recommend we eat two to four servings of fruits per day and even more vegetables (a minimum of five servings). Both offer fiber, plenty of vitamins, are low in calories, and are fat-free. Both reduce the risk of obesity, cancer, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, asthma, and other diseases. But the question is, “How do we get our children to eat more?”
Here are three ways to convince children to try more healthy foods - including fruits and vegetables:
1. Plant a garden
Research shows children are twice as likely to eat fruits and vegetables from their own backyard. Saint Louis University researchers interviewed 1,600 parents of preschool children and found those eating homegrown fruits and vegetables were more than twice as likely to eat five or more servings per day as those who don’t. Fun memories, learned skills, and a sense of accomplishment are created when kids get to pick out the seeds, plant and water them, watch plants emerge and grow and harvest and eat the produce.
The American Dietetic Association recommends between five and 13 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. AppleTree and Gilden Woods follow the USDA recommended servings for daily breakfast, lunch, and snacks and create a “colorful” plate by serving different colored foods at each meal.
2. Start some "food rehab" to alter eating habits.
In Getting to Yum: The 7 Secrets of Raising Eager Eaters, Karen Le Billon, Professor at the University of British Columbia, offers "taste training" on how to get kids familiar with - and interested in - trying new fruits and vegetables.
Le Billon raised two young daughters who were picky eaters. She chronicled her work to open them to new tastes in French Kids Eat Everything then followed up, detailing her case that kids can be taught to eat and enjoy most foods.
Start by taking young children to the store and getting them to help pick out and sample various herbs and spices. This helps them learn how herbs and spices can liven up and enhance the tastes of vegetables. She also calls for mixing up fruits and vegetables in a blender to combine different juices and instill an appreciation for their taste.
When Americans stopped offering samples of all these different flavors to their children, it developed a culture of "picky eaters" who only eat certain (and often unhealthy) foods, she argues.
Le Billon also advises to keep your kids in the kitchen, getting them involved with more of the food preparation process so they feel like they are part of the decision-making process.
AppleTree and Gilden Woods use fresh fruits whenever possible. Our nutritional menu is based on USDA food and nutrition guidelines and is posted monthly on our Parent Portal so currently enrolled parents can see what their child is being served.
3. Enforce the “one bite rule” and gradually replace snacks with fruits and vegetables.
Some children may need to be exposed to a new food 8 to 10 times before enjoying it. So don't give up. The “one bite rule,” which requires kids to try one full bite of a new food before rejecting it, helps children open up to different tastes, researchers say.
But, don’t force your child to eat more than that one bite, they add. At AppleTree and Gilden Woods, we ask children to take a “no thank you bite” which encourages them to try a bite, but allows them to stop eating that food if they don’t like it. Then we try again another day.
Having a regular snack time schedule where healthy snacks are featured, instead of sugary treats, helps facilitate changes in food preferences and taste.