Growing up helping my parents and grandparents in the garden left me with a healthy appetite for fruits and vegetables. Knowing where food comes from sparks a curiosity in children for the taste and preparation of nature's bounty. Interestingly, a recent study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, showed that when children are involved in the growing and cooking process of what they eat, they are more willing to try new foods. The children were not only willing to try new foods during the program, but healthier lunches and snacks started coming from home. 2 The fitting motto of this program was "Grow it, try it, and you just might like it." A previous garden-based nutrition education project showed similar findings.3
In a perfect world, these types of programs would be part of every child's formal education experience; unfortunately this isn't the case. The good news is that research reveals that just being involved in meal preparation in the home is associated with higher fruit and vegetable preferences and showed children's greater ability to choose healthier foods on their own.4
As a Naturopathic Doctor, I am often questioned about how to get children to eat more fruits and veggies. With the Spring comes the promise of fresh, readily available produce so here are some tips and tricks that may help encourage your child to eat at least five servings of fruits and veggies each day!
· Grow things! Have your children involved in all stages of the process - field to fork.
· Be a good role model. Children need to see you eating healthy foods.Daily consumption of fruits and vegetables by parents is associated with higher consumption by the children.5
· Involve children in the planning and preparation of meals.4 Allow your child to help you pick the menu and give them simple tasks to complete (i.e., peeling carrots).
· Vary the way foods are prepared. Ask your child what it is about food they don't like (taste, texture, etc.). Cutting up vegetables into veggies sticks is a great way to encourage healthy snacking as children eat more fruits and vegetables when parents always cut them up.5
· Eat together as a family. Children whose families said they "always" ate a family meal together at a table consumed more fruits and vegetables than those who never ate a meal together.5
· Finally, use rewards to persuade your child to try new foods or previously disliked foods. Verbal praise or even tangible rewards (like a sticker) have been shown to increase acceptance of foods and increase consumption of vegetables.6
1. Statistics Canada. Fruit and vegetable consumption. <http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-229-x/2009001/deter/fvc-eng.htm>, 2010 (accessed 9 March 2013).
2. Gibbs, L., et al., Expanding children's food experiences: The impact of a school-based kitchen garden program. J Nutrition Education and Behavior, 2013. 45(2): 137
3. Heim, S., J. Stang, and M. Ireland, A garden pilot project enhances fruit and vegetable consumption among children. J Am Diet Assoc, 2009. 109(7): p. 1220-6.
4. Chu, Y.L., et al., Involvement in home meal preparation is associated with food preference and self-efficacy among Canadian children. Public Health Nutr, 2013. 16(1): p. 108-12.
5. Christian, M.S., et al., Family meals can help children reach their 5 a day: A cross-sectional survey of children's dietary intake from London primary schools. J Epidemiol Community Health, 2013. 67(4): p. 332-8.
6. Cooke, L.J., et al., Eating for pleasure or profit: The effect of incentives on children's enjoyment of vegetables. Psychol Sci, 2011.22(2): p. 190-6.