Eat your vegetables!

Parents can make better choices and be the role model if they want to improve their kids’ diets

By Edie Shaw-Ewald

Vegetables and fruits are on the outer rim of the Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating rainbow, illustrating their importance to our health. Programs such as the 60 Minute Kids’ Club Challenge encourage kids and their parents to eat more fruits and vegetables. So you are not alone in being concerned about your child’s diet.

Take a look at your diet. The same surveys show that most adults don’t eat enough produce either. Adults should have seven to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit a day. Are you reaching your targets?

Adults are more motivated to eat vegetables and fruit because they know it can add years to their lives and life to their years by reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity. But chances are that your child won’t find this motivation to crunch more cabbage.

Nagging, coercing and bribing techniques don’t work well in most cases, and can result in emotional drama at the dinner table and usually backfire in the future. Recognize your role as a parent and your child’s role as an eater: you provide the healthy food, a positive role model and eating environment; your child decides what and how much to eat. Respecting these roles will nurture the long-term goal of raising a healthy and independent eater.

Plan to have at least one fruit or vegetable serving at breakfast and snacks, one vegetable and fruit at lunch and two vegetables at dinner. 

Structure and routine around mealtimes will help your child develop long-term healthy eating habits. Eat together at the table as much as possible and let them see you eating and enjoying vegetables and fruits. Make positive comments about the food: “Aren’t these peppers sweet and crunchy?” “This pear is so juicy!”

I never advocate preparing separate meals, but consideration is important. For example, if they prefer the vegetables that you are preparing for dinner in their raw state, then set some aside before you cook them.

Try different cuts and cooking methods. Use a peeler to shave ribbons off of carrots or cucumbers to put into salads. Try roasting brussels sprouts instead of boiling them. If they don’t like lots of vegetable chunks in a soup, purée the soup to a smooth consistency.

I’m not a fan of always disguising vegetables, though. It doesn’t teach children to enjoy these foods for their inherent tastes and textures. But a little sneakiness is probably okay. Add cooked puréed veggies, such as cauliflower, carrot and sweet potato, to well-liked foods such as chili or pasta sauce.

Price is another barrier to eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. Plan meals ahead to avoid food waste and take a look in the reduced price section of the produce aisles. Buy produce in season and don’t forget to stock up on inexpensive frozen vegetable options. Stock up on frozen fruit when it’s on sale. 

Was Winston Churchill talking about parents getting their child to eat their veggies when he said, “Never, never, never, never give up?” I think so! He must have known that a child’s tastes and preferences can change as they mature.  

Tips for encouraging your kids to eat their veggies:

•  Deter all-day grazing so that your child will be hungry and motivated to eat at meal times. Offer snacks at certain times, not too close to meal times.

•  Get kids involved by letting them help plan and prepare meals.

•  Encourage your child to fill half their plate with vegetables at dinner. Be a role model!

•  Serve small amounts of unfamiliar or not well-liked vegetables with familiar and well-liked vegetables.