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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Getting Your Kids to Eat Fruits and Vegetables

When we were living in England, a study was published about the eating habits of children in the UK.  It focused on how many fruits and vegetables they ate each day.  I can't remember exactly what the amount per person was, but it was something along the lines of ONE QUARTER of a serving.  Per DAY.

I remember thinking that they must have made a mistake. . .the study must have been flawed, or the report figures in error.  I was pretty shocked.

Shortly thereafter, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver was doing a series on the rubbish served in British schools.  He was trying to figure out how to both improve the quality of food available as well as to encourage kids toward healthier choices.

He gathered about eight or so kids and started by asking them all what they had for dinner the night before. . .going around the table, the answers went something like this:  pizza and chips (french fries), burger and chips, fish and chips, chicken nuggets and chips, and just plain chips.  All processed, fatty, salty, processed foods.  With a side of fries.

No wonder kids have no palate for healthier foods.

And I'm not terribly sure American kids are doing too much better, either.

I believe strongly that if you start offering a variety of healthy foods from the start, in a variety of forms and textures, your going to lay the foundation for lifelong healthy eating.

But what to do if you're having to backtrack a bit and alter established habits that aren't great?  Or what if you truly do have a child who rejects multiple foods?  Well, here are a few tips to help get you headed in the right direction:

Teaspoon Tastes

In our family, we have a 'one taste' rule. Before a food is outright dismissed, it must first be tasted. . .only one teaspoon. If it isn't liked, we don't make a big deal about it, but the next time it's served, another teaspoonful must be tasted. The idea behind it is based on a documentary I saw in the UK. It noted that most people decide whether they like something before they ever taste it, but also explained that eating foods repeatedly actually changes your tolerance of them. . .so, even a small taste can, potentially, lead to you eventually liking a food.  Thus, the 'one taste' rule was born.

Hidden Nutrition

We are huge fans of  'hidden smoothie' and the 'hidden soup,' which worked wonderfully well with our own kids as well as foster children. We simply make a smoothie or soup flavored dominantly with acceptable-to-the-kid ingredients, then slip in a puree of other nutritious foods. If the proportions are right, the good stuff will never be noticed. For example, if your child likes bananas, make a smoothie with a predominantly banana base, but chuck in a few berries, some apple bits, and maybe some carrot juice.  The banana flavor should 'hide' the other ingredients.

Likewise, adding a puree of veggies to soups and stews, while leaving 'acceptable' veggies and meats whole can boost the nutrition level, while also slowly introducing subtle flavors of healthy foods.  Adding some pureed turnip or sweet potato or parsnip, etc., to regular mashed potato can bump up the nutritional value, too.

Grow Your Own

One of the best and easiest ways to get children invested in trying new foods is to have them grow their own.  Whether it's a few pots of herbs, a long window planter, or their own little patch in the garden, when kids feel ownership over the whole process, they are far more likely to be willing to try the fruit of their labor.

We used to let our kids choose their own seeds or seedlings on the condition that they would eat at least three servings, prepared in three different ways, when harvest time came.  They then got to plant, water, weed and harvest by themselves.  You can't believe how attached and attentive kids can get during the whole process.  From the excitement of the newly peeking sprouts through to the first beautiful flowers through to the glory of the first harvest, their pride and love for their own produce naturally leads them into eating it.

Have Some Fun

We like to watch Food Network shows around here. . .two favorites are Chopped and Cut Throat Kitchen.  Family night versions of these shows are huge hits with us. . .they are so much fun, they encourage creativity and innovation, and the kids are far more likely to taste their own concoctions. . .so mix 'acceptable' ingredients with some choices they're leery of and watch the magic happen!

If you have only one child, or only one of cooking age, (or a load of kids, for that matter) you can create a mini competition where you try to figure out how many ways you can prepare a typically disliked ingredient.  Everyone must taste and vote on the preparation they like best.  Sometimes, it isn't the flavor that a kid dislikes, it's the texture or usual way it is cooked.  Experimenting might uncover a new recipe everyone will love.

(photos courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net and can be found here and here)


  1. So resonate with this. I believe my adult daughter's wide ranging palate results from my insistence that she (as a toddler) tolerate the chowing down of one mouthful of a disliked food (e.g. Brussell sprouts) at every meal.

    The smoothie idea is a good one too. It's really true that a handful of raw spinach in a banana smoothie cannot be detected. Only problem is dead giveaway of smoothie turning green!

  2. We were tricky! I had a set of lidded cups that weren't see through. I modified the spout so that a smoothie could go through and put suspiciously colored smoothies in that. Only one of my kids/foster kids ever questioned the color, but thankfully they happened to like mint, so I added a leaf or two of that and they were never the wiser. Sneaky parents! :)

  3. My husband makes fun of me when I tell him it's not the taste but the *texture* of the food I don't like. I'm always happy when someone agrees with me.

    1. Well, count me in as a witness in your defense! I have found that almost all the kids that have passed through my house (my own four and family members and foster kids) have all, almost without exception, rejected foods on texture rather than taste. :)


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