How to get your kids to eat fruits and vegetables

It may take a little creativity and marketing, but it can be done

By Nina Gundecha, Columnist, The Times

UTHealthyEatingColLogoAll parents have faced the wrath of a five year old who refuses to eat his spinach because he doesn’t like the look of it… the taste of it… the smell of it… or, the texture of it.  In fact, he likes absolutely nothing about it and there is nothing you can do at that moment to get the five year to pick up fork and deliver spinach into mouth!  Unfortunately, this pattern can persist for the next ten years, unless parents engage in a little strategizing to outwit that five year old!

Now that 2014 is upon us, we thought that we would share a few of our favorite tips to help parents and kids enjoy the benefits of healthy eating – beginning with a goal of incorporating five fruits and vegetables into every meal.  Some of the tips are common sense and easy to implement, while others will require a bit of planning. 

We can summarize the ideas into three key themes:

1. Change the image of vegetables… do a little PR and rebranding!

2. Make it fun and involve kids in the shopping, meal planning and preparation – ask for their suggestions!

3. Do not force an overnight change in behavior – kids have to want to eat a certain food at a certain time and they need to think it’s their idea!

KidsveggiesThere are a lot of good reasons to get kids to like vegetables and adopt healthy eating habits, including improved nutrition, decreased obesity, digestive health, better sleep and improved school performance.

Improved Nutrition:

Children’s growing bodies require good nutrition, and fruits and vegetables contain a multitude of vitamins, minerals and other healthy compounds. Citrus fruits and strawberries are rich in immune system-boosting vitamin C, carrots are loaded with eye-healthy vitamin A and spinach is a good source of iron and antioxidants.

Decreased Obesity:

Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, which can make kids feel fuller and less receptive to unhealthy snacking impulses!  Substituting one portion of fruits and veggies for a sugary snack can play a dramatic role in avoiding obesity. A USDA study of 3,064 kids ages 5 to 18 linked higher fruit consumption to healthier body weights.

Digestive Health:

High-fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables, help the digestive system function properly. As fiber passes through the digestive system, it absorbs water and expands, promoting normal digestive functioning.  Fiber can be found in a lot foods that kids like, including dried apricots, dates, plums, nuts and granola.

Improved School Performance:

Studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics have linked better eating habits with improved school performance.  A recent study of 5,200 Canadian fifth graders found that the kids with healthy diets were up to 41 percent less likely to fail literacy tests.

Here are our Top Ten Tips for getting kids to eat healthier in the New Year:

1. Start with breakfast:  Include fruits in cereal. Start the day with a smoothie.  Add veggies to an omelet.

2. Harness the power of fruit and veggie snacks:  Try fruit roll ups, dried fruit, kale chips.  Do a taste test, but don’t tell kids what is in it – let them guess!

3. Disguise the veggies!  Put the veggies in things that kids already like… Zucchini bread, muffins, mac & cheese, cauliflower mashed potatoes, red peppers stuffed with mac ‘n cheese?

4. Taste matters.  Add a little vanilla, cinnamon, raw cacao, berries or nuts to jazz up otherwise bland food.

5. Presentation matters.  Create interesting shapes, textures and color combinations.  This will go a long way and will create interest in trying something new next time.

6. Make it fun and create a challenge.  Learn about a new fruit or veggie every week.  You will be amazed at how motivating this can be.  Create a weekly contest and see how quickly your kids will learn everything about Kale!

7. Rebrand the vegetable.  Call them “veggies” instead of “vegetables”.  This sounds less intimidating and more approachable (“the art of rebranding the vegetable for kids”).

8. Be good role models.  Show your own personal enthusiasm.  Don’t eat unhealthy snacks in front of your kids and don’t keep unhealthy snacks in the house.

9. Have kids help you in the kitchen.  Food brings families together.  Take kids shopping with you and let them choose from a list of options.  Involve them in weekly meal planning.

10. Use a pull versus push strategy.  Respect your kids’ appetites and understand that behavioral change takes time.  It’s a gradual process.  Don’t force foods the food on kids… let the kids come to the food.  Trust us, with the right strategies, they will… Kale chips will soon replace Doritos!

Let us know if you found this article helpful and check out some of our healthy eating recipes at

Eat Well and Enjoy!

Nina Gundecha is the co-owner of Terra Foods Market located in the Market at Liberty Place, 148 W State Street Kennett Square, PA, 19348
Tel. 610-444-4708.
You can visit them at Facebook at

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