As a parent of a child who has been eating gluten-free and dairy-free for 5 years and counting, making sure my son is getting the nutrients he needs to be healthy and strong in his daily diet is of paramount concern to me. When we first took gluten out of his diet, my son’s eating was so limited that he would only try grapes and an occasional apple slice, while refusing every vegetable choice. Knowing the importance of plant foods in my child’s growth, I set out to see what we might do to change his eating habits.
While some parents and nutrition experts advocate the “puree and sneak them in” method, I wanted to help my child learn the joy of appreciating fruits and vegetables. Below are the strategies that I employed that got my son eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables within 6 months:
1. Introduce the fruit/vegetable even if your child won’t try it
There are many reasons why children avoid new foods. Eating is a multi-sensory experience and children may have sensitivities to smell, taste and texture. One child may love veggies that crunch (like carrots and peppers), but will never touch something soft, like a mushroom. You may need to offer the fruit/veggie to your child a number of times before they will even try it. Put one piece on their plate and work on them tolerating it being there.
2. Involve your child in the prep process
It’s been my experience (both as a parent and cooking instructor) that children who get to wash, peel and slice fruits and veggies are more likely to try them. Allow your child to help you prep the fruits and vegetables and you may see them take a much greater interest in trying them.
3. Make it fun!
No one wants to eat something that is attached to pressure and disappointment! Keep your attitude light and upbeat. Invite your child to see how fast they can break celery stalks for you, or count the berries together as you wash them in a colander. Add dips like hummus or salsa, and try dipping your veggies together.
4. Encourage curiosity
Eating fruits and vegetables can lead you into a world cultures lesson. Bring home new produce that your child has never seen before. Where does a jicama come from? In what season do kumquats ripen? How did an ugli fruit get its name? With the help of our friend Google, you can use fruits and vegetables to inspire your family’s intellectual curiosity.
5. Take the ABC Challenge
One of the ways I got my children excited to try new fruits and veggies was to pick a letter each week and find fruits and vegetables to match the letter. Some are pretty easy (A, B and C, to start) but others get quite challenging! If you’re stumped by X, Y, Z or any other letters, check out ABC Fruits & Veggies 4 Me, featuring 45 gluten-free (and dairy-free) recipes.
When parents tell me that their children won’t eat fruits and veggies, my answer is “not yet.” Try these tips and let me know how they work for your family. Drop me a line with any questions at [email protected]
About the author
Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer is the author of the children’s gluten-free cookbook The Kitchen Classroom and the new e-book ABC Fruits & Veggies 4 Me.