June is National Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month. A growing body of research shows that fruits and vegetables are critical to promoting good health and possibly positive behavioral and mental health. To get the amount that’s recommended, most people need to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables they currently eat every day. Most parents understand the importance of fruits and vegetables and desperately want their children to eat more of them. However, this often becomes a struggle at meal times. Here are a few important tips:
- Start young, really young. —When a breastfeeding mother eats a varied diet, countless components of the foods she eats seasons her milk subtly. In this way, a breastfed baby is exposed to a wide variety of flavors before a single vegetable touches his or her lips. If you are a breastfeeding mother, make sure to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables yourself.
- Keep offering them—Once you begin to introduce solid foods to your baby, continue to offer a variety of fruits and vegetables and a variety of tastes and textures. Your baby may reject green beans, spinach, or other foods, but repeatedly offering a variety of foods usually leads to acceptance and eventually a preference for those foods. Try, try again.
- Don’t hide them—If you’re looking to increase your child’s long-term intake of fruits and vegetables, don’t hide them. This will do nothing to foster a long-term appreciation. Hiding a 1/4 cup of pureed cauliflower in your child’s macaroni and cheese won’t teach your child to appreciate cauliflower, instead it will foster an appreciation for macaroni and cheese. However, hiding fruits or vegetables in certain foods is not always wrong as long as you are aware that it’s only for the nutritional value and not for the purpose of instilling the valuable lesson of healthy food choices. For this lesson to sink in offering the actual fruit or vegetable and increasing your child’s exposure to it is the only way to go.
- Lead by example! —Take care to remember how deeply your choices as a parent affect those of your children. Profoundly impressionable, they’re looking to you to guide them into making the right choices for themselves. By actively choosing and savoring vegetables yourself, you mold the way your child views fruits and vegetables. Eat well, and your children will learn to eat well, too.
Visit a local farmer’s market and let your child experience the bright and vibrant colors of the fruits and vegetables. Celebrate National Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month, but remember to enjoy these necessary foods all year long.