Children can learn to like vegetables

Offering a variety of vegetables in different ways help children learn to like and eat them more often.

Many parents experience the episodes of their children refusing to eat their vegetables at meals. There are many reasons that some children more easily learn to like vegetables than others. Parents who like vegetables and serve them often at meals allow their children to often experience a variety of vegetables, and this leads to more acceptance of them. Even if children resist and complain about them, repeated and frequent exposure to them usually leads to early acceptance.

Michigan State University Extension says that the way children are exposed and taught about other foods will have an impact on how well they learn to eat them. Children who eat a lot of high fat and high sodium foods like those we get at restaurants, especially burgers and fries, learn to prefer those foods and will be less likely to learn to like vegetables. The same is true when children are fed a lot of high sugar foods. Foods high in fat, sodium or sugar can lead us to crave those foods more and thus fill-up on them, meaning we won’t have an appetite for vegetables very often.

Secretary Tom Vilsack of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) office of communications, wrote in a weekly column that the USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which provides fruits and vegetables at no cost to students in more than 7,100 schools in low-income areas, showed that as children are introduced to fresh fruits and vegetables, they try them. Of children who tried a vegetable in school, more than 60 percent of them ate most, or all of it.

The approach parents take to encouraging children to eat healthy foods (including vegetables) will have a lot to do with the foods that children eat willingly. Parents who serve foods that the children haven’t learned to like and insist the children eat everything they are served may actually be setting their children up to dislike the foods. A better approach is to serve healthy foods, including foods the child doesn’t like and allowing the child to decide whether they will eat and how much. While encouragement is good, putting less pressure on the child will allow them to explore the food and learn to eat it in their own time. At the same time, parents should be sure to set regular meal and snack times so children will come to meals hungry enough, being more likely to try foods.

Serve vegetables in different ways so children have an opportunity to try them raw or cooked, with different seasonings, in different mixed dishes, and as snacks. Allow children to eat foods with their fingers as much as possible. This makes eating much easier and more fun, especially for very young children. You can find lots of recipe ideas, and motivating ideas at fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org.

Practice what you want to see in your children, and set limits on foods and beverages that are high in fat, sodium and sugar. The more parents and caregivers eat healthy foods, including snacks, the sooner our children will accept healthy foods. Children who learn healthy choices and limits about the foods they eat will learn to make mostly healthy choices, especially as they grow to become adults. It’s good for all of us to learn and remember that all foods fit into a healthy diet, as long as we use moderation and try to eat mostly healthy choices that are low in fat, sodium and sugar and high in nutrients.

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