6 tips to get your kids to love vegetables

Is it OK if my child eats lots of fruit but no vegetables? Yasmine Probst, Olivia Wills and Shoroog Allogmann look at the research.

Does it seem like most vegetables you serve your children end up left on the plate or, worse, strewn across the floor? But mention dessert, and your fruit skewers are polished off in an instant.

Or maybe the carrot and cucumber sticks keep coming home in your child’s lunchbox untouched, yet the orange slices are nowhere to be seen.

If you’re facing these struggles with your child, you’re not alone. Many children prefer fruit to vegetables.

So, if your child eats lots of fruit but minimal or no vegetables, is that OK? And how can you get them to eat more veggies?

Children have an innate preference for fruit.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend daily intakes for vegetables and fruit depending on a child’s age.

A chart showing the serving amounts of fruit and veg for ages 4-18.
Fruit and vegetable serving sizes by age. The Conversation.
National Health and Medical Research Council, CC BY-SA

Consumption among Australian children falls well below recommendations. Around 62.6% of children aged over two meet the recommended daily fruit intake, but only 9% meet the recommended vegetable intake.

This is not surprising, given children have a natural preference for fruit. At least in part, this is due to its sweetness and texture, whether crispy, crunchy or juicy. The texture of fruit has been linked to a positive sensory experience among children.

Vegetables, on the other hand, are more of an acquired taste, and certain types, such as cruciferous vegetables, can be perceived by children as bitter.

The reason children often prefer fruit over vegetables could also be related to the parents’ preferences. Some research has even suggested we develop food preferences before birth based on what our mother consumes during pregnancy.

Balance is key

So, a preference for fruit is common. But is it OK if your child eats lots of fruit but little to no vegetables? This is a question we, as dietitians, get asked regularly.

You might be thinking, at least my child is eating fruit. They could be eating no veggies and no fruit. This is true. But while it’s great your child loves fruit, vegetables are just as important as part of a balanced eating pattern.

Vegetables provide us with energy, essential vitamins and minerals, as well as water and fibre, which help keep our bowels regular. They also support a strong immune system.

If your child only eats fruit, they are missing some essential nutrients. But the same is true if they are eating only veggies.

An open lunchbox with a sandwich, fruit and vegetables.
Children should eat both fruit and vegetables as part of a balanced diet.
Inspiration GP/Shutterstock

Fruit likewise provides the body with a variety of essential vitamins and minerals, as well as phytochemicals, which can help reduce inflammation.

Evidence shows healthy consumption of fruits and vegetables protects against chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Consumed together, fruit and vegetables in a variety of colours provide different nutrients we need, some of which we can’t get from other food. We should encourage kids to eat a “rainbow” of fruits and vegetables each day to support their growth and development.

What if my child eats too much fruit?

If your child is eating slightly more fruit than what’s recommended each day, it’s not usually a problem.

Fruit contains natural sugar, which is good for you. But too much of a good thing, even if it’s natural, can create problems. Fruit also contains virtually no fat and very little to no protein, both essential for a growing child.

When overindulging in fruit starts to displace other food groups such as vegetables, dairy products and meat, that’s when things can get tricky.

6 tips to get your kids to love vegetable

1. Get them involved

Take your child with you when you go shopping. Let them choose new vegetables. See if you can find vegetables even if you haven’t tried them, so you’re both having a new experience. Then, ask them to help you prepare or cook the vegetables using a recipe you have chosen together. This will expose your child to veggies in a positive way and encourage them to eat more.

2. Sensory learning

Try to expose your child to vegetables rather than hiding them. Kids are more likely to eat veggies when they see, smell, and feel them. This is called sensory earning.

3. Have fun with food

Use colourful vegetables of different sizes and textures. Make them fun by creating scenes or faces on your child’s plate. Add edible flowers or mint for decoration. You can even serve this with a side of veggie-based dips such as hummus or guacamole for some bonus healthy fats.

4. Teach them to grow their own

Teach your child how to grow their own vegetables. Evidence shows kids are more inclined to try the food they have helped and watched grow. You don’t need to have a big backyard to do this. A windowsill with a pot plant is a perfect start.

5. Lead by example

Your child learns from you, and your eating habits will influence theirs. Ensure they see you eating and enjoying veggies, whether in meals or snacks.

6. Practise persistence

If your child refuses a particular vegetable once, don’t give up. It can take many attempts to encourage children to try a new food.The Conversation

Yasmine Probst, Associate Professor, School of Medical, Indigenous and Health Sciences, University of Wollongong; Olivia Wills, Accredited Practising Dietitian, PhD candidate, University of Wollongong, and Shoroog Allogmanny, Accredited Practising Dietitian, PhD candidate, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Com on license. Read the original article.