What is occupational therapy for children? Occupational Therapy (OT) for children, also referred to as…
Easy ways to get your kids enjoying fruits and veg?
Fruit and vegetables are essential to a healthy, balanced diet.
But as many parents will tell you, increasing a child’s variety of fruit and vegetable intake can be tough. For many kids, they’re often reluctant to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Usually because they’re unfamiliar with a foods appearance, texture, or taste.
But this reluctance shouldn’t stop you from trying to increase your child’s familiarity with fruit and vegetable. Here’s some fresh new ways you might like to try.
Play with your food? You must think we’re crazy. But hear us out. Play can be a powerful technique to increase a child’s familiarity with new foods. Some ways you can incorporate play into food include:
- Finding pictures of fruits and vegetables that children can colour in, cut out and stick, or draw.
- Using playdough to make your own fruits and vegetables.
- Trying using real fruits and vegetables in messy play too e.g. you can use potato shapes or dried peas when painting to create different effects.
- Using your child’s favourite toy or game with food and role-playing e.g. teddy bear’s picnic, tea party with dolls (or dinosaurs!), and so on.
Growing your own food can be a powerful way for a child to get connected to where their food comes from, and often helps to increase their willingness to try new foods. It’s also a wonderful way to spend time outside together. If you’re interested in growing fruit and vegetables, consider:
- Starting small with a few pots and growing herbs.
- Buying a packet of seeds and giving your child ownership over the project – they’ll usually love to eat something they grew themselves.
- Growing cherry tomatoes, which are usually resilient and yield lots of fruits. You can get your child to water it, take photos etc. They’re sweet and delicious too!
Try going to a farmers’ market, or a fruit and vegetable shop where there is no processed temptation to distract your child. While you’re there you can:
- Let your child choose fresh fruits and vegetables they’d like to try.
- Teach them about things like feeling for ripeness, as this will increase their physical contact with the food.
- Make it a game. For example – who can spot the most yellow foods?
Prepping and cooking
Involving children in food preparation is a powerful way to get them used to seeing and handing different foods in different states (from raw to cooked). We recommend:
- Letting your child pick the ingredients for the meal.
- Encouraging your child to help wash the fruit and vegetables to be used in the meal.
- Help with the preparing, such as tearing salad leaves or peeling the garlic for the meal.
- Allowing your child to handle and fruits and vegetables in their different states, such as raw, boiled, steamed. Your child might not enjoy raw carrot, but might love it cooked.
The sense of pride and achievement from having prepared a food can encourage children to try their creation.
Food isn’t just about taste. We also eat with our eyes and sense of smell too. You might like to try:
- Cutting food in different shapes – you could use a cookie cutter.
- Adding a range of colours on the plate – try a daily “eating the rainbow challenge”.
- Adding new flavours to the food – adding grated cheese, sauces, herbs, spices.
- Changing the texture of the food – offer carrots raw, cooked, mashed, grated etc.
- Cutting foods into smaller, bites size pieces, which are more visually appealing and manageable to eat for young children.
Be supportive, patient and proactive
Adding more variety in your child’s diet can take time, especially if they’re an especially fussy eater or have been in a food rut for some time. We recommend:
- Being a good role model. Let your child see you eat and enjoy a variety of foods.
- Continuing to offer a range of foods and being ok if they refuse it. Acknowledge it as a normal part of development and be aware that it can take several attempts before a child will try a new food.
- Praise and acknowledge when your child has made progress, no matter how small.
- Encourage your child to explore new food through the senses. Even if they don’t eat it at first, getting them to smell or touch a new food can be a big step towards change.
- Talk about fruits and vegetables. Talk about how they’re grown and the health benefits different foods give the body.
Over to you
Have you got a fussy eater? Have you got a tip to share? What has worked for you? We’d love to know.
Disclaimer: The information here is provided on a general basis. You’re encouraged to consult with your General Practitioner (GP), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) or a Paediatrician (child doctor) if you have any concerns.