Soon our preschoolers will grow to become teenagers and young adults.
By learning from us, they become empowered to nourish their bodies with healthy, nutrient-dense foods, make informed choices, and try new cuisines when opportunities arise.
As parents, we are responsible for so much of our children’s health, safety and future. How then do we cultivate a love for food while imploring a balance of healthful choices?
I encourage parents to get kiddos involved in everything FOOD! When children play a role in meal preparation at a young age, they gain an understanding of basic cooking techniques and often become more interested in eating fruits and vegetables vs. prepared or processed foods. The more opportunities you have to expose your children to a variety of fruits and vegetables, the more likely they will be independent healthy eaters.
To begin incorporating new fruits and vegetables, it is important for our children to be interested in them. They are little scientists at this age and if you are able to help them experiment with new foods, you will be providing the foundation to independent healthy eating. Help your kiddos learn about a new vegetable by reading about it in a book.
(See my suggestions in the book list above!)
Take a trip to the grocery store and pick out vegetables together. Let your kiddo(s) feel it, smell it, put it in the bag or cart and have them help you place in the refrigerator when you arrive home. That afternoon prepare the vegetable and have your little one safely help you. Use descriptive words and talk about what you see, smell and what the vegetable feels like throughout the process. Provide the opportunity for your children to taste the vegetable at dinnertime and talk about all the fun things you did to get it to your table that evening. Take time the next day to re-read about the vegetable and pretend play in a toy kitchen or with your clean pots/pans/turners and a colored picture of your vegetable. You will be further helping to shape their relationship with healthy food options.
Research shows that children who read books exposing them to vegetables without any underlying messages about getting stronger or healthier were shown to eat significantly more of that vegetable when given the opportunity.
Let your children experiment with the smell, appearance, texture and sounds a food can make when touched or chewed. Provide opportunities to grow fruits and vegetables and help you pick them out from farmer’s markets or your local grocer. Allow them to chew, toss, push around and be opinionated about these new foods as it can take many introductions and a variety of preparation techniques that often follow a standard, developmentally appropriate progression before these foods are considered palatable.
See the graphic below on texture progression!
There are so many opportunities in our culture for relationships to be formed with low nutrient dense foods (ex: camping trips where “fun” is typically associated with chips, candy and sugary beverages). It is important that we provide the groundwork for kids to be intrigued by healthy foods. Although your little one may not be enamored with the vegetable of choice or it’s flavor, by being a part of a fun experience, it will inevitably help shape their eating habits and food associations. If given the opportunity to eat that vegetable again in the future they will likely take the chance give it a taste.
Teresa Brennan, RD, CD, CNSC is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician. She holds a certification in Adult Weight Management and is currently a busy mom of two little ones. Teresa is a consulting RD for FIT4MOM Eastside.