Kids versus vegetables

Christine Hennebury
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Exposure and good examples the keys to nutrition

Kids' dislike of vegetables is a favourite joke in sitcoms and children's books, and most parents nod in recognition, recalling their own struggles to get their kids to eat carrots, celery, or even the dreaded Brussels sprout.
Dana Conway, a mother of two in Mount Pearl, hasn't had that problem. Her kids don't fit the stereotype.
"Both my kids love vegetables, and a wide variety of them … they have never been an option at my house, and we've never had a problem with that."
Jayme Annand, registered dietitian with Sobeys, says it's not just kids, a lot of people struggle with eating vegetables. However, one way to encourage your kids to eat vegetables is to make sure you're eating them yourself.
"If the child is not exposed to vegetables and notice their parents not eating them, they probably won't as well. Monkey see, monkey do."
Parents should aim to get kids eating between 4-6 servings of vegetables and fruit each day (depending on their children's ages). Annand explains some serving sizes "1 serving would include 1/2 cup fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables and fruit, 1 medium vegetable or fruit, 1 cup of leafy raw vegetables, i.e. baby spinach or romaine lettuce, and 1/2 cup of juice."
And she recommends that parents serve fruits and vegetables more often than juice which doesn't have the same amount of fibre.
Kids are often more willing to eat fruits than vegetables, but fruit is not a substitute for vegetables, despite being in the same category in Canada's Food Guide. Annand says, "It is important to get a variety, to consume a mixture of nutrients. Some fruit and vegetables do have an overlap of nutrients but not all."
Kids also need to have a variety of vegetables, not just one or two kinds. Annand recommends that people choose brightly coloured vegetables most often, i.e. peppers, broccoli, carrots, sweet potato, squash, Brussels sprouts and baby spinach.
Conway's kids enjoy a variety of vegetables, and she and her husband encourage their son and daughter to try new ways of eating them. "We always have a variety and don't stick to the basics, like potato and carrots. We let the kids eat them whatever way they choose. If that means peanut butter on celery, or raw turnip, so be it."
She has found that having kids has livened up her vegetable choices. "We've tried a lot of weird veggies. In fact, we've tried vegetables since we've had kids that we hadn't tried in our lives. It's been interesting for sure."
Kids (and adults) often don't like foods the first time they try them, so it is important to keep trying. Says Annand, "Exposure is the key. We can't say we don't like vegetables if we don't eat them or haven't tried them in different ways. Keep offering vegetables, and in different ways, so children can be familiar with them."
While parents are trying to get their kids to eat vegetables in whole form, they can ensure kids get their nutrients by mixing the vegetables into other foods like spaghetti sauce, or muffins.
Annand endorses this idea: "By hiding vegetables in other foods, it would definitely make that food more nutritious, so no harm there. Just as long as the vegetables are still being offered to children as vegetables for meals and snacks too."
If parents feel strange about tricking their kids, Conway has a different way of looking at it. "I don't consider that 'hiding vegetables.' It just makes meals more interesting and I think our kids see it the same way. When people make spaghetti sauce, sometimes you add mushrooms, sometimes you don't, sometimes you substitute carrot for mushroom."
While it is true that many people don't jump at the chance to eat vegetables, parents shouldn't assume that their kids won't like them. Says Conway, "Don't make a big deal over vegetables. Most kids eat fries without considering they're eating potato. Introduce other veggies the same way."
She also recommends trying all kinds of different vegetables with your kids because "variety is the spice of life, spice it up." Perhaps you will both find some new favourites together.

Some tips for encouraging your family to eat their veggies from Jayme Annand, R.D.
• Prepare/cook vegetables in different ways, not the same way each time.
• Make sure to expose kids to vegetables several times so they can gain familiarity.
• Be fun and creative. Make things with vegetables to be more interesting. For instance, on a plate, make a face using broccoli or celery as hair, little tomatoes sliced in half as eyes, a carrot as a nose, and a pepper slice as a mouth. Serve with some dip.
• Serve vegetables with cheese sauce, dip, herbs and spices or a little margarine to encourage kids to eat them. Jazz them up. It's better for children to eat vegetables that way, than not at all.
• Offer them as snacks.
• Make vegetables available for consumption.
• Have vegetables already peeled, cut and washed so it makes it easier to eat. Not all vegetables can be done this way but a lot can, including peppers, onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms, baby spinach and tomatoes.
• Cook extra and save for the next day.
• Try different recipes for vegetables. Vegetables don't always have to be steamed.

Organizations: Sobeys

Geographic location: Brussels, Mount Pearl, Canada

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Recent comments

  • David
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    I don't think its a good idea to make a practice of sneaking fruits and vegetables into other foods. It desn't create good food habits. As a food educator and writer this is an issue I have been thinking about a lot. I think it is possible to never have to say eat your vegetables again. That's why I wrote The ABCs of Fruits & Vegetables and Beyond. Parents and teachers interested in getting kids to develop friendly feelings towards fruits and vegetables should take a look at a new book called The ABCs of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond. Out only a few months and already being bought in quantity for class use. Suited for kids of all ages as it is two books in one children first learn their alphabet through produce poems and then go on to more mature activities. It is coauthored by best-selling food writer David Goldbeck (me) and Jim Henson writer Steve Charney. Say hello to us at HealthyHighways.com

  • Jill
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    If you need more help adding extra fruit and vegetables to your diet check out www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org! This website offers tips for adding more produce to your diet along with nutritional information and some great recipes. They also have a forum where people can share their problems and suggestions with each other as well as an ask the expert section that lets you ask a registered dietitian all of your nutrition questions. There are kid's activities too!

  • Lynn
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    I add baby spinach to fruit smoothies. If you add blueberries, the color of the berries conceals the green color of the spinach, and kids never know they are in there. I don't find that you can taste the spinach at all when it's combined with the fruit.

  • David
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    I don't think its a good idea to make a practice of sneaking fruits and vegetables into other foods. It desn't create good food habits. As a food educator and writer this is an issue I have been thinking about a lot. I think it is possible to never have to say eat your vegetables again. That's why I wrote The ABCs of Fruits & Vegetables and Beyond. Parents and teachers interested in getting kids to develop friendly feelings towards fruits and vegetables should take a look at a new book called The ABCs of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond. Out only a few months and already being bought in quantity for class use. Suited for kids of all ages as it is two books in one children first learn their alphabet through produce poems and then go on to more mature activities. It is coauthored by best-selling food writer David Goldbeck (me) and Jim Henson writer Steve Charney. Say hello to us at HealthyHighways.com

  • Jill
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    If you need more help adding extra fruit and vegetables to your diet check out www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org! This website offers tips for adding more produce to your diet along with nutritional information and some great recipes. They also have a forum where people can share their problems and suggestions with each other as well as an ask the expert section that lets you ask a registered dietitian all of your nutrition questions. There are kid's activities too!

  • Lynn
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    I add baby spinach to fruit smoothies. If you add blueberries, the color of the berries conceals the green color of the spinach, and kids never know they are in there. I don't find that you can taste the spinach at all when it's combined with the fruit.