It’s getting kids to eat what parents serve that causes so many problems.

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DINA ROSE, PhD is a sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert empowering parents to raise kids who eat right.

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Entries in Vegetables (76)


3 Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat More Fruits & Vegetables

I've often been critical of modeling as a technique for increasing kids' vegetable consumption.

It's not that I think modeling isn't important. It's that I think modeling just isn't powerful enough.

Imagine someone telling you that the best way to teach your kids how to dress themselves is to let them "catch" you wearing clothes.

Kids need to see you eating fruits and vegetables, for sure. But they also need to learn how to taste new foods, to develop a foundation of eating a variety of foods, to become more familiar with the sensory properties of fruits and vegetables. The list of the skills kids need to learn to develop healthy eating habits goes on.

Having said that...

A new study shows that not all modeling is equally effective. So...

Parents, start eating:

  • Fruit at dinner
  • Green salad at dinner
  • Vegetables at snack

It's not that these modeling moments are more powerful than modeling, say, eating vegetables at dinner. Rather...

Teaching children to eat fruits and vegetables throughout the day increases their total consumption.

Read Change How Your Kids Snack

The same logic applies to adding salad and fruit to dinner. Read Salad Days and Dishing Up Dessert.

Rather than fight with your kids to eat a few more bites of vegetables at dinner, give your kids more opportunities to eat only a few bites.

  • A few bites add up across the day
  • Eating fruits and vegetables throughout the day is simply the right habit

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Draxten, M., J. A. Fulkerson, S. Friend, C. F. Flattum, and R. Schow. 2014. “Parental Role Modeling of Fruits and Vegetables At Meals and Snacks is Associated With Children's Adequate Consumption.” Appetite 78C: 1-7.


Change How Your Kids Snack

The easiest way to change how your kids eat is to change how they snack.

Most parents I know think of meals as The Nutrition Zone— The time when parents try to pack in the nutrients—and snacks as the Fun Zone (or maybe it's the Forgotten Zone).

Here's the math on Fruits and Vegetables: On average, children consume....
  • Less than 3 servings per day
  • Less than half of one serving at snack time
  • Slightly more than 1 serving at dinner

Changing Snack Behavior is easier than changing Dinner Beahvior because...

Adding some to zero gives you a bigger mathematical bang-for-your-buck than adding more to some.

If your children eat 2 snacks each day, and if those snacks usually featured fruits and vegetables, that would add up to a big change in their diets...even if your kids only ate a few bites at each snack.

On the other hand, getting kids who normally eat 3 or 4 bites of vegetable at dinner to eat 5, 6, or 7 bites would probably be a lot of work for YOU. And you'd probably resort to begging, bribing, etc. (You know not to do that, right? Read Wheelin' & Dealin': 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Trade Peas for Pie.)

Fruits and Vegetables should be your kids' Go-To Snack.

I know, you think your kids won't eat fruits and vegetables at snack time and you don't want them to be hungry. Or, your kids are in school where they don't serve fruits and vegs at snacktime. Or fruits and vegetables aren't really portable.

I hear you. To these real objections and problems I say:

  • Instead of emphasizing health, talk to your kids about proportion. Fruits and vegetables should show up in the diet more frequently as a group than crackers, cookies, salty snacks, etc.
  • It's ok to let children refuse a snack. It teaches them that temporary hunger is survivable. Think of this as letting your kids build an appetite.
  • If your kids have a meltdown, this is a behavioral problem, not a food problem. And even if you know that food would solve the meltdown, you still have to teach your kids how to behave even if they're hungry.
  • Compensate for schools that serve lots of crackers and salty snacks by making sure you serve healthy after-school snacks. Again, teach the concept of proportion.
  • It's just as easy to grab an apple as it is to grab a bag of Goldfish crackers. But I hear you: why not store some apples and oranges in the car, replacing/replenishing every few days? Or pre-cut/pre-bag fruit and keep it in the refrigerator?

If you want your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables you have to serve more fruits and vegetables.

Eating is really a matter of math. Kids want to eat the foods they're most accustomed to eating.

Research shows that kids today take in a lot more calories from snacks than they did a generation ago.

Sadly, the research also shows that kids don't compensate for consuming more calories during snack by consuming fewer calories at meals.

And even sadder is this news: Most snack calories come from desserts and sweetened beverages, but salty snacks – i.e. potato chips, tortilla chips, pretzels -- and candy are the fastest growing category of snack consumption.

Read Snacks: The Gifts That Keep On Giving

Your Kids won't be the only ones to benefit from better snacking. Your life will improve too.

To find out how, read 10 Ways Improving Your Kids' Snacking Will Improve YOUR Life. 

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source "Here's the math...": Draxten, M., J. A. Fulkerson, S. Friend, C. F. Flattum, and R. Schow. 2014. “Parental Role Modeling of Fruits and Vegetables At Meals and Snacks is Associated With Children's Adequate Consumption.” Appetite 78C: 1-7.


How Do I Introduce Baby Food? Think Variety.

When I talk to pediatricians I tell them the same thing I'm about to tell you: The most important thing parents can do when they're introducing solids is think about VARIETY.

Yes, I tell pediatricians to change how they advise parents. I say, skip the go-slow, introduce-one-food-and-wait-three-days approach.

The go-slow approach DOESN'T prevent allergies, but it does teach a style of eating that is counterproductive.

Read one of my favorite studies in Early Vegetable Variety: The French Advantage.

Exposure to a variety of vegetables, rather than repeated exposure to a single vegetables, not only encourages acceptance of new vegetables, it also encourages acceptance of other new foods.

That's because, teaching kids to eat a variety of foods teaches them a mindset: I eat different foods from meal-to-meal and from day-to-day.

(In contrast, the go-slow approach teaches a different mindset: It's normal to eat the same foods from meal-to-meal and from day-to-day.)

Here's the study: 30 infants, all being introduced to vegetables for the first time.

The infants were all between 4 and 6 months old, divided into two groups.

  • One group was given carrots every day for for 10 days. This was the Single Exposure Group.
  • One group was given a rotation of parsnip, zucchini and sweet potato for 10 days. This was the Variety Group.
  • On the 11th day, all the babies were given peas.

Who ate more peas? The Variety Group.

Actually, it turns out that for babies weaned before 6 months old, it didn't seem to matter whether they were in the single exposure group or the variety group.

However, if the babies were around 6 months old, being in the variety group had a BIG effect.

Notice that color is one element of variety incorporated into the Variety Group.

Rotating the color of foods has been found to be one of the most effective patterns for exposure to variety.

So don't get "stuck" in the same-color-food rut!

Here's the takeaway: Once babies are about 6 months old, variety really matters. And there's no downside.

Even though variety didn't have a big effect on new vegetable consumption for young babies, variety did matter for older babies. And since all young babies turn into older babies, it makes sense to introduce variety from the get-go.

There is NO downside to introducing variety early...especially if we're talking fruits and vegetables which are not highly allergenic. But even if they were, read Peanuts, Eggs and Shellfish Before Age One.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Coulthard, H., G. Harris, and A. Fogel. 2014. “Exposure to Vegetable Variety in Infants Weaned At Different Ages.” Appetite 78C: 89-94.