Although it’s no secret that vegetable intake is a critical part of a healthy lifestyle, most children fall short of the recommended levels. Currently, fewer than 15 percent of children between the ages of 4-8 receive the recommended amount of vegetables daily. It’s tempting to think that children don’t need to worry about what they eat because they are growing so fast.
However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Here’s why kids need their vegetables and a few pointers for how to get them to do so.
Importance of Vegetables for Growing Bodies
Vitamins and minerals found in vegetables are also critical to a child’s proper development. The human skeleton requires an adequate supply of many different nutritional factors. Evidence shows that peak bone mass and later fracture risks are influenced by the pattern of growth in childhood and by nutritional exposures in utero, in infancy and during childhood and adolescence (Prentice et al, 2006).
Classical nutrient deficiencies, such as those created when vegetable intake is low, includes stunting, rickets, and other bone abnormalities.
Vegetables provide a necessary role in the fight against disease. They also help maintain pH balance, which fights off inflammation caused by acidification, thus decreasing the risk for diseases and infections that children are prone to.
Parent-Led Exposure-Based Intervention Strategy
Recent findings show that when parents exposed their children to vegetables on a daily basis, it increased their liking toward a previously disliked vegetable.
According to a study on children in daycare, providing a variety of vegetables as a snack led to increased consumption (Roe et al, 2013).
Data from research shows that it takes approximately 8 or nine tastings before children start to like the taste of a certain vegetables (Lakkakula et al, 2010).
Along with exposure to vegetables at home, take interest in what your child’s school is serving for lunch. If it’s not up to your standards, send your child to school with a packed lunch full of tasty vegetables. Prepare your child a veggie sandwich loaded with his or her favorite vegetables.
Carrots, cucumbers, celery, and other vegetables are portable and tasty when dipped in guacamole or hummus.
Your Kids Are What You Eat
Children that see their parents eat vegetables are more likely to eat them. Little ones are great mimics. If they see you eating something, chances are they want it. And most of the time, they want it off your plate. But on the other hand, if your kids see you eat fast food, processed food, and junk food, they will want that, too.
Have your children eat at home where you have control over their choices. Make sure they see you prepare their food so that they learn to appreciate healthy cooking. And most importantly, make sure they see you eating and enjoying vegetables as well. Be sure to sit down and eat as a family as often as you can. Use this time to talk about important topics, such as why it matters to eat good food.
Start ‘Em Young
The sooner you introduce children to vegetables, the better. The best time to do this is when they are babies. Young children rely on their parents to feed them. If you constantly offer them vegetables, they will grow to learn that this is what they are supposed to eat.
Remember that if you don’t expose your kids to junk food, they won’t know what they are missing out on. As they grow older, explain to them the reasons why we need to eat vegetables and what happens to our bodies when we don’t.
Mention that their favorite activities, such as swim lessons, or swinging and climbing on the play structures at the park, wouldn’t be possible without a healthy body.
Get Your Kids Moving
According to a study published in Preventative Medicine, children just aren’t hungry enough to eat their vegetables at lunch time. The solution was to have recess before lunch. Researchers found that when kids played before eating lunch, they were 54 percent more likely to eat their vegetables.
Schools with children who ate their lunch before recess were found to have a decline in produce consumption.
Try to do the same thing when at home with your kids. Be sure mornings and afternoons are full of lots of play time and activities. When it’s time to eat lunch or snack, offer them vegetables.
Gentle persistence is key. Be patient and remind yourself that over time your children will get used to eating vegetables if you maintain exposure to them, show them that you enjoy eating them as well, eat together as a family whenever possible, and make meal times as fun as possible.
Lakkakula, A., Geaghan, J., Zanovec, M., Pierce, S., & Tuuri, G. (2010). Repeated Taste Exposure Increases Liking For Vegetables By Low-income Elementary School Children. Appetite, 226-231.
Prentice, A., Schoenmakers, I., Laskey, M., Bono, S., Ginty, F., & Goldberg, G. (2006). Symposium on ‘Nutrition and health in children and adolescents’ Session 1: Nutrition in growth and development Nutrition and bone growth and development. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 348-360.
Roe, L., Meengs, J., Birch, L., & Rolls, B. (2013). Serving a variety of vegetables and fruit as a snack increased intake in preschool children. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 693-699.