Studies show that American school-age children typically consume about 3/4 cup of vegetables daily, less than half the recommended amount.
More than half of the vegetables that kids do consume are either potatoes (most often french fries) or tomatoes (while the tomato is botanically a fruit, it is considered a vegetable for culinary purposes). 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.
- Offer lots of choices. Let children select which vegetables will be served with dinner or which vegetables to add to a salad.
- Encourage your child to choose a new vegetable when shopping at the grocery store.
- Let your children help. They 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 carrot to spaghetti sauce or chili. Try veggie lasagna instead of meat lasagna.
- Store cleaned, cut-up raw vegetables in the refrigerator at eye level for snacking. Kids like to dip vegetables, so have a healthful dip (such as salsa, bean dip or yogurt) on hand.
- Put single servings of raw vegetables or a small salad in your child's lunch box.
- Kids 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. Partially cook crisper vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, to make them easier to chew.
- Plant a vegetable garden with your children. Children may 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 information regarding container and theme gardens, visit www.hgic.umd.edu and search for container gardens.
- Check out children's books about vegetables from your local library. 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.
- Visit a local farmers' market. These 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 they would like to try.
Just like adults, kids need their vegetables. Visit www.mypyramid.gov and click on "for kids." You will find a worksheet to help your children track how their food choices match up to the recommendations of MyPyramid. Together you can set daily food and activity goals.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.