Good nutrition is essential for a young child’s optimal growth and development. Specifically, maintaining a diet that’s rich in fruit and vegetables and establishing healthy eating habits earlier in life can decrease your child’s risk of developing chronic diseases and some cancers. Most children, however, aren’t eating adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables.
Children need many nutrients provided by a variety of foods, including plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, which are loaded with vitamins and minerals and cancer-protective fiber.
Here are a few fun and easy tips to entice young eaters to eat more fruits and vegetables and to help promote healthy eating habits:
- Always have pre-cut or easy-to-prep fruits and vegetables available and stock your refrigerator with foods representing the rainbow of colors. For example, leafy greens like kale and spinach, cabbage family veggies like cauliflower and broccoli florets, snackable berries like blackberries and blueberries, and sweet citrus fruits like oranges and easy-peel tangerines.
- Plan a trip to a Farmer’s Market and get your child involved with food selection. Allow your child to make decisions on what fruits and vegetables they want for dinner and ask them to participate in their preparation. Children can easily help wash leafy vegetables, toss salad greens, peel fruit, and rinse fresh berries.
- Have your child make faces, animals, flowers, cartoon characters, or superheroes with fresh fruits and vegetables.
- If your child refuses to eat certain fruits or vegetables, offer variations in how they’re prepared. Try cooked versus raw vegetables or puree them into a soup.
- Sneak pureed fruits or vegetables into your family’s favorite muffin, pasta, and casserole recipes.
- Offer a salad bar for lunch. Have your child decide which fruits and vegetables to include, along with protein-rich foods like hard-cooked eggs, cubes of cooked chicken, chickpeas, and edamame.
- Plant a garden to help teach children where their foods come from.
- Check out cookbooks focusing on fruits and vegetables from your local library and let your child pick delicious and new ways to prepare meals.
- Be a role model! When children see their parents enjoying fruits and vegetables, they are more likely to mimic their behavior.
Not sure how to fit more fruits and vegetables into every meal? Here is an easy example of a meal plan that both you and your child will enjoy.
- Breakfast: add fresh fruit to your cereal or yogurt; add vegetables such as spinach and mushrooms to an omelet.
- Lunch: fill your sandwiches with fresh vegetables like arugula and cucumber slices; enjoy a cup of hearty vegetable soup; pair cottage cheese with fresh peach or pear slices.
- Dinner: include a variety of colorful raw or cooked vegetables as side dishes; serve nutrient-packed sweet potatoes or yams; offer a fruit parfait for dessert.
- Snacks: enjoy fruits and vegetables representing the rainbow of colors; make a nutritious and versatile fruit and vegetable smoothie.
Paula Charuhas Macris, MS, RD, CSO, FAND, CD is a registered dietitian with more than 30 years of experience in cancer care. Paula works primarily with hematopoietic cell transplant patients at SCCA South Lake Union and at the SCCA Survivorship Clinic. She has a special interest in working with children and families. Paula is a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is a board-certified specialist in oncology nutrition.