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Cultivating a Love for Fruits and Veggies

We all know the temptation of a bag of crisps or slice of cake, but we also know that fruits and veggies are the basis of a healthy diet! How can we raise our little ones to love their greens when, sometimes, all they want is sugar?


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Fruits and vegetables have so many benefits for our bodies. They provide us with a wide range of vitamins and minerals. They’re an excellent source of fibre, and eating several portions a day can reduce our risk of developing a number of nasty illnesses and diseases. However, just knowing that something is good for us doesn’t make it easy to do: sometimes, the healthiest choices can feel like the hardest chores.

The eating habits we develop in childhood are often continued throughout our lives. So how can we cultivate a love for making healthy food choices in our little ones?

Well, as is so often the case, the scientists have the answers! Between 2010 and 2014, a group of scientists from a number of backgrounds conducted a study on the formation of children’s eating habits, with a particular focus on the consumption of fruits and vegetables. The result? A positive cornucopia of information on how to get your kids to eat their greens. Here are our highlights:


Weaning


If you’re up to date on our Childhood Academy, you’ll know that brain development has sensitive periods: important times in our lives where we are more greatly affected by our environment. Well, this applies to the formation of eating habits, too. The more fruits and vegetables you introduce to your little one between the ages of 6 months and two years, the more they’ll eat and enjoy them throughout the rest of their lives! 

:) When you begin weaning, start with pureed fruits and vegetables. Try starting with one fruit or vegetable each day, then slowly work your way up. Remember, transitioning from milk should be a gradual process!

:) Babies naturally love sweet things (like milk!) so their taste buds need to be trained to enjoy sour or bitter flavours. This can take time and patience.

:) Babies will make funny faces when they try new flavours. It doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like it, it’s just different!


Routine and Variety


These two sound like opposites, but really they’re not! Establishing a routine that contains a wide variety of fruits and veggies is great to get your little one started.

:) Offering fruit and vegetables as part of a set routine of meals and snacks is important. Children who do not have an eating routine will generally consume fewer fruits and veggies!

:) Having a variety of fruits and veggies available to your child will not only mean they are less likely to get bored of them, but will also make it easier to introduce new foods later down the line.

:) When introducing a fruit or vegetable for the first time, don’t overload your little one. Give them a little to try, then wait a few days before trying it again. A five day schedule of five different fruits and veggies is a great way to do this!

:) For older children, try providing two different vegetables cooked in different ways at mealtimes. This way they can choose one or eat both, but they still get one of their five a day while exercising independence.


Repetition


Most of us can remember a food we used to hate but now love. Just because your little one doesn’t respond well to something the first time you offer it, doesn’t mean they’ll never like it. Try offering something eight times before deciding your child doesn’t like it. It sounds like a lot, but, remember, until recently, all they ate was milk! It’s a big change!


Get Sensory


A great way to pique a child’s interest in fruits and vegetables is to allow them to explore their textures and smells, as well as their tastes.

:) Get your little one involved in food prep. They could have a go at mixing or tearing up salad leaves.

:) From around 7 to 8 months, start giving your little one soft finger foods, such as a piece of cooked carrot. This way they can explore the texture more fully, as well as working on their motor skills and learning to feed themselves!

:) Get creative! Why not try making faces on your plate out of fruits and vegetables, or cutting them into different shapes using cookie cutters? This adds an element of fun and expression to your healthy eating.

:) You can also try growing your own fruits and vegetables, either in the garden or on a windowsill. This can be great fun for children, giving them a sense of achievement when they finally get to taste their own lettuce!


Cultivate a Healthy Relationship


As many wonderful things there are to try, there are behaviours we should avoid, too, if we want our little ones to maintain a positive relationship with their food.

:) Don’t mask flavours. Not only do you want to train your child’s taste buds to actually like kale, but the study found that adding sauces or flavourings actually didn’t make much of a difference to whether children enjoyed a vegetable or not.

:) Pay attention to signs of fullness or hunger. If your little one is hungry, allow them a fruity snack. If they’re full, don’t force them to finish. It’s important they learn to listen to the needs of their body.

:) Avoid using food as a bribery or reward for good behaviour. This can give the impression that healthy eating is a chore, or even a punishment!

:) Don’t pressure. If your little one really doesn’t want to eat a particular fruit or vegetable today, don’t make them. You can try again in a few days. Also, remember that food rejection at around two years is perfectly normal. Continue to provide your little one with the same family meals in a positive, comfortable eating environment, and they’ll soon learn to enjoy their dinner again!


It All Starts With You


Remember, children learn by example, and you are their primary source of… well, everything! The behaviours you model will soon become their own. So, make sure you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, with lots of fruits and veggies and, where possible, eat the same ones as your child! They’ll be munching down the carrots in no time.

Lastly, if you are at all concerned about your child’s eating habits, it’s always good to ask the professionals. Never be afraid to get in touch with your family doctor.

For more information on the study, you can check out their website by clicking here. 

We hope this blog helps your little ones on their journey to a happier and healthier life!

Lizzie
Content Creator @MEplace


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