As a pediatric dietitian, a common question parents ask me is how to get their child to eat more fruits or vegetables. Summer is a great time to teach children about the value of eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. A trip to the supermarket, farmers’ market or your own garden can quickly show the plentiful options. When children are involved in choosing foods and preparing meals, they are more likely to eat what is served. You might be surprised at what your child will eat when he or she helps to make it!
Using colors can be a good way to increase your child’s intake of fruits, vegetables and other nutrient-rich foods. This is a fun way to introduce new fruits and vegetables while providing a variety of essential nutrients. Different colored fruits and vegetables provide various nutrients. For example, orange fruits and vegetables provide beta-carotene, which our bodies convert into vitamin A, an important nutrient for vision. Green vegetables supply vitamin K, which our bodies use to build strong bones. Other colored fruits and vegetables provide other important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Here are some ways to use colors to teach your kids about food, while increasing their intake of fruits and vegetables:
Create a bingo board with colors listed in the squares. Each time your child eats a food of that color, have him or her mark it off. If your child gets a bingo that day, reward him or her with a trip to the park or let them choose what to have for dinner the next night.
Visit a farmer’s market and talk to the farmers about the fruits and vegetables. Ask how they grow them, how they prepare the fruit or vegetable, and what their favorite fruit or vegetable is.
Watch it grow
Try growing a tomato plant with your child. These are fairly easy to maintain and your child will be able to see the progress that it is making each day. Once it is ready to harvest, have your child pick the tomato and put it on a sandwich, eat it plain or choose a recipe that includes the tomato.
Color of the week
Choose one color to focus on for a week. Go to the farmer’s market or grocery store and buy fruits and vegetables of that color.
Try one new fruit and vegetable per week. Select produce that is in season. Try the fruit or vegetable plain, try a new recipe or add it to one of your favorite recipes.
Mix a rainbow
Try to see how many colors you can include in one meal. Try recipes with multiple vegetables (such as omelets or a salad) and serve with a side of fruit salad.
I also recommend that parents let their children help in the kitchen as much as possible. This helps children learn cooking skills at a young age, and it also increases their acceptance of new foods. Many children that I speak with become very excited when they tell me that they helped their mom make dinner last night and tried a new recipe for the first time. Depending on your child’s age, there are many things that they can do to help prepare meals. For younger children, this may include washing fruits and vegetables, mixing ingredients, and setting the table. Older children can help to chop ingredients, measure ingredients, and serve the food. Kids not only learn about the foods they are eating, they engage in reading, measuring and using their fine motor skills.
At the end of the summer, you may be surprised at all the new fruits and vegetables your child tried and even liked!
Katelin Schrock, RD, is a Pediatric Outpatient Dietitian with the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Congenital Heart Center. Katelin works with children who have congenital heart conditions and their families to help them understand their dietary needs. Her favorite part of working at the University of Michigan is working with patients of varying ages, ranging from infants to teenagers, with different nutritional needs.
University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.