Good news! Children are eating more whole fruit and drinking less juice. The not so good news is only 60% of children are eating enough fruits and only 7% are eating the recommended amount of vegetables! (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
One reason children’s intake of vegetables is so low may be that children’s taste buds are different from adults’ taste buds. Children taste “bitter” flavors more than adults. Since a lot of vegetables are bitter, many children do not like the taste of vegetables. That doesn’t mean we should give-up. It’s important to continue to encourage children to try vegetables. The more they try different vegetables, the more their taste buds will become familiar to the bitter taste.I like the process the curriculum LANA (Learning About Nutrition through Activities) uses to introduce children to new vegetables (and fruits). Children are first introduced to a specific vegetable during a tasting activity where children have the opportunity to see, feel, and touch the vegetable. Children are also encouraged to taste the vegetable.
Children have small tastes of the vegetable over the course of a few weeks. The vegetable is then introduced as part of cooking activity. It has been shown that children are more willing to try new foods if they help to prepare it. The vegetable is later served as a snack and finally at mealtime.
The advantage of slowly introducing new vegetables in a variety of ways is children will gradually become accustomed to the taste and texture of the new vegetable. It also reduces waste (and frustration) of teachers, child care providers, and parents as they will not prepare a new vegetable for a meal only to have most of it go uneaten.
The LANA Preschool Program is available to download. It was developed through a grant from the National Cancer Institute to the Minnesota Department of Health. With the goal of promoting preschoolers’ consumption of a variety of fruits and vegetables, LANA was originally designed and tested as a 24-week program focusing on eight specific, highly nutritious fruits and vegetables.
In summary, remember to introduce vegetables to children in small amounts over a long period of time. Stay positive and encourage children to try the new vegetables.
Mary Schroeder works for the University of Minnesota Extension which helps to connect community needs with University of Minnesota resources. Specifically the Health and Nutrition programs and resources focus on disease & obesity prevention, healthy school environments, and continuing education for community professionals. You can link to the Extension Health and Nutrition website at: http://www.extension.umn.edu/health/