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Encourage children to eat more veggies

August 29, 2007|By LYNN LITTLE

Just like adults, children need their vegetables. 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, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups of veggies are recommended daily, depending on calorie needs. For active 9- to 13-year-olds, as many as 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 approximately 3/4 cup of vegetables daily, less than half of the recommended amount. Further, more than half of the vegetables that children do consume are either potatoes (most 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. To encourage your children to eat more veggies, try these ideas:

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· Be a good role model. Let your children see you eating and enjoying a wide variety of vegetables regularly.

· Begin serving small portions of soft, cooked vegetables at an early age. Helping young children establish good eating habits 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. If you would like information on age-appropriate activities for children, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County Office, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. Mark the envelope, "Children."

· 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 carrot 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. Children 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 brown-bag lunch.

· Children 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.

Plan now to 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, grow a container garden instead. For more information regarding container gardens, contact the horticulture educator at the Washington County office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension by calling 301-791-1604.

Check out children's 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 Susanna Gretz. Read the story and then taste the vegetables together.

Visit the local farmer's markets now through early fall. They 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. Visit www.mda.state.md.us and type "farmer's market" into the search for a complete list of farmer's markets, locations, days and times of operation.

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

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