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Keep veggies interesting for kids

April 18, 2007|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Children need their vegetables, but getting kids to eat them can be tricky.

Studies have shown that American schoolchildren typically consume about 3/4 cup of vegetables daily, less than half the recommended amount. And more than half of the vegetables that kids do consume are either potatoes (most often french fries) or tomatoes. Because vegetables are usually not as sweet as fruits, 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 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.

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· 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 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 vegetable lasagna instead of meat lasagna.

· Store cleaned, cut-up 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.

· Put single servings of raw vegetables or a small salad in your child's packed lunch.

· 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 crisper vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, to make them easier to chew.

· Plant a vegetable garden or theme 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, grow a container garden instead. For more information about theme gardens, send an e-mail to LLittle@umd.edu with theme gardens in the subject line.

books about vegetables from your local library. Ask the librarian to suggest books that have a vegetable theme. Some good examples include "Oliver's Vegetables" by Vivian French, "Over Under in the Garden" by Pat Schories and "Rabbit Food" by Susan Gretz. Read the story and then taste the vegetables together.

· Make plans to visit the local farmers market for locally grown produce. Farmers markets offer a great way to learn how food is grown and what it looks like in its unprocessed state. Let your children choose one or two vegetables that they would like to try.

There are two local farmers markets you can visit:

· Hagerstown City Farmers Market, 25 W. Church St., Hagerstown, Maryland, Saturdays: 5 a.m. to Noon. Open all year.

· Washington County Farmers' Market, Prime Outlets at Hagerstown, Prime Outlets Blvd. off Sharpsburg Pike, Hagerstown. Wednesdays: 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., open mid-May through October, and Saturdays: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., from early June through September.

In its MyPyramid Food Guidance System (www.mypyramid.gov), the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that children between the ages of 2 and 3 consume 1 to 1 1/2 cups of vegetables each day. For children ages 4 to 8 years old, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups of veggies are 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.

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

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