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13 February 2017

How to win the veggie war with kids

A nutritionist offers some tactical tips for parents who struggle to get their kids to eat and even enjoy foods that are good for them.

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A study by the Nutrition Information Centre (NICUS) of the University of Stellenbosch has highlighted the fact that Children in South Africa are consuming inadequate amounts of fruit and vegetables.

The study reports that fruit and vegetable intake has been linked to decreased incidence of and mortality from a variety of chronic, non-communicable diseases, including hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, cancer and obesity.

There is increasing evidence that fruit and vegetable consumption in children may protect against an array of childhood illnesses.

Set the stage before birth

For every parent who's ever pleaded with their young child to eat "just one more bite", a nutrition expert says there are ways to get kids to eat and even enjoy vegetables.

Youngsters' tastes start being influenced while they're still in the womb, according to Richard Rosenkranz. He's an associate professor of food, nutrition, dietetics and health at Kansas State University.

"During pregnancy, an embryo and then a foetus is obtaining information about the outside world. So, moms can set the stage for what their kids will want to eat before they're even born," he said in a university news release.

Lead by example

Parents should eat the same vegetables they serve their babies and toddlers because little ones take cues from their parents.

"Babies start to think, 'Why does he keep putting this stuff in front of me, but he never eats it?' We're being watched by our kids from very young ages," Rosenkranz said.

Start with sweeter vegetables like corn and carrots, he suggested.

Food can be fun

One way to encourage young school-aged children to eat vegetables is to cut and arrange them into smiley faces or animals.

"If you cut fresh vegetables into fun shapes or use grape tomatoes for eyes, suddenly the kids are taking something healthy they never would have eaten and actually enjoying it," Rosenkranz said.

Team effort

Get children involved in food preparation and cooking as early as kindergarten and increase their kitchen responsibilities as they grow. If children grow vegetables, select them in the store, or prepare them in the kitchen, kids are more likely to eat more veggies, he said.

To boost teens' vegetable consumption, provide fully prepared vegetables in easy-to-access places. For example, set out a vegetable tray with dip for teens when they come home from school or have grab-and-go vegetables in the fridge.

And, again, modelling good behaviour by eating vegetables yourself is likely more effective than just telling your teen to eat vegetables, Rosenkranz said.

In a 2011 article, Health24's former DietDoc suggests that hiding veggies in your family's favourite dishes can help them eat more of these healthy foods without even noticicng it. She calls it "a little deceit in the kitchen".

Read More:

Childhood gardening may encourage fruit and veg consumption

Healthy diet may be key to kids' reading skills

Focus on eating more heart-healthy foods rather than cutting out unhealthy ones

 
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