Piling up peas is not the way to go

Better ways to get kids to eat needed vegetables

Better ways to get kids to eat needed vegetables

April 12, 2006|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Just like adults, kids need their vegetables.

The MyPyramid plan for kids ( recommends that children between ages 2 and 3 consume 1 to 1 1/2 cups of vegetables each day. For children ages 4 to 8, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups of veggies is recommended daily, depending on calorie needs. For the active 9- to 13-year-old, up to 3 1/2 cups of vegetables are recommended daily. Even for a vegetable lover, this can be a daunting task.

Studies show that American school-age children typically consume about 3/4 cup of vegetables daily, well less than half the recommended amount. More than half of the vegetables that kids consume are either potatoes (often french fries) or tomatoes. Because vegetables are usually not as sweet as fruit, it can sometimes be difficult to get children to eat them. If your kids routinely turn up their noses whenever vegetables are served, try these ideas:

  • Be a good role model. Let your kids see you eating and enjoying a wide variety of vegetables on a regular basis.

  • Start young. Serve small portions of soft, cooked vegetables beginning at an early age. Establishing good eating habits as a young child can have lifelong benefits.

  • Offer lots of choices. Let children select which vegetables will be served with dinner or which vegetables to add to a salad.

  • Buy new and different vegetables. Encourage your child to choose a new vegetable when shopping at the grocery store.

  • Let your children help. Kids often are more likely to eat foods that they help to prepare. Choose age-appropriate activities such as washing, peeling and/or slicing the vegetables.

  • Add vegetables to foods you already serve. For example, add frozen corn, carrots, peas or beans to canned soup. Mix chopped celery, peas or chunks of tomato into macaroni and cheese. Top pizza with sliced tomatoes, mushrooms or spinach. Add chopped or grated carrots to spaghetti sauce or chili. Try veggie lasagna instead of meat lasagna.

  • Store cleaned, cut, raw vegetables in the refrigerator at eye level for snacking or grazing. Kids often like to dip vegetables, so have a healthy dip (such as salsa, bean dip or yogurt) on hand as well.

  • Put single servings of raw vegetables or a small salad in your child's lunchbox.

  • Kids often find the bright colors and crisp textures of vegetables appealing. Serving vegetables raw, lightly steamed or stir-fried can help maintain their natural color and texture. For younger children, it is a good idea to at least partially cook crisp vegetables to make them easier to chew.

  • Plant a vegetable garden with your children. Children might be more interested in eating vegetables if they help grow them. If you don't have space in your yard to plant a garden, try a container garden. For information about container and theme gardens, call 301-791-1504.

  • Check out children's books about vegetables from your local library. Ask the librarian to suggest books that have a vegetable theme. Good examples include "Oliver's Vegetables" by Vivian French and "Rabbit Food" by Susan Gretz. Read the story and then taste the vegetables together.

  • Visit and click on "for kids." You will find a "MyPyramid for kids" worksheet to help your children track how their food choices match up to the recommendations of MyPyramid.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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