The other day we were visiting with some family friends and they said, “At any party, your kids are sitting in front of the fruit and veggie tray. How did you get that to happen?” My immediate response, was, “I don’t know, they’ve always eaten fruits and veggies.” But when I look back on both their feeding habits, and mine I suppose I did put some effort into creating that.
As babies, when I could finally introduce them to jar foods, I did exactly what the doctor told me to do. Feed them the greens first, as they are the ones kids dislike the most, fruits last. Babies do not usually favor greens: spinach, green beans, peas, because of their texture and taste. Let’s face it, they are not sweet, and coming out of a jar, they taste even worse. I was so paranoid with my first child, that I followed the doctor’s instructions to a “T”. My son liked them, so I moved on to the good stuff, carrots, sweet potatoes, corn, but always throwing in the greens now and again so he didn’t forget what they tasted like. I would even mix them up to hide the flavor of the greens and use sweet serenity like carrots, to mask their grainy texture and strong flavor. In order for me to be persistent with the fruits and veggies, I had to believe in their nutritional value as well. I had always been more of the health freak in my family, always reading up on the who, what, why of foods. And I love variety. I love to try new things. I eat all kinds of flavors and textures, and I would be damned if I was going to live a life of boring bland foods smothered in ketchup and Ranch dressing because that is all my kids would eat. So I made sure they were experiencing all kinds of foods as well, in all colors, flavors and textures.
Moving out of the jar food phase and into the gumming and teething phase, I found this amazing little gadget, the Baby Safe Feeder. It’s a contraption that holds food inside a net that is screwed on to a little handle for the baby to hold. This was an amazing opportunity for my children to try the same foods I was eating in a safe way. I put everything in there, steak, watermelon, carrots, strawberries, avocado, you name it, it went in there. Clean up is kind of, well, gross. The babies mash the net with their gums until they can suck out the food that is inside. It gives them the opportunity to try what you are having, not to mention a great teething tool as well, but it leaves a disgusting mess of mushed up food for you to clean. For me, it was well worth it. Both of my kids loved it whenever I pulled it out, and they would literally mash and suck until they got everything out of that net. (You can buy replacement nets as they do tend to get pretty nasty and hard to clean the more you use them.)
The other tool that was instrumental in getting my kids to eat their fruits and veggies was called the Kidco Baby Steps Food Mill . Remember, this was five years ago, so you can find more advanced tools now. A brand called Beaba makes one that looks amazing and I’m looking forward to using it for the twins. Every time my husband and I ate dinner at home, our kids ate the same thing. We would grind up our foods, and serve it to them. Again, they loved it. We struck out on a few things because of the texture, but overall, they were very happy to eat what we were eating. If it got to dry or too thick, we would add some formula to it and mush it up a little. Between those two products, they were learning to eat the same foods we were by the time they were one year old.
Put Some Variety in Your Diet
The one thing I always committed to, and still am to this day, is always serving a fruit with breakfast (if not fruit, then fresh squeezed juice), fruit and veggie with lunch, veggies with dinner, and sometimes fruit for dessert. My son’s favorite dessert is Strawberry shortcake, and my daughter will often choose blackberries and strawberries to a bowl of ice cream. Growing up, I was a big fruits and veggies eater. My mom always had them around, and I loved eating peaches, plums, green grapes, carrots and celery sticks…fruit and vegetables were a big part of my diet. My grandmother is Italian, and she was always feeding me things like peas and pasta, rapini and sausage, and we had salad with every dinner. My dad loved spicy things, so I did too, and we would eat peppers on everything we could. Variety was a big part of my diet. The older I got, the more curious I became about exotic fruits and vegetables and how to prepare them. Fortunately, I married a man who will try anything, so we enjoy traveling together and experiencing the different cultures with food. When we can’t travel, we love going to Whole Foods and finding something new and different to try. The other activity our kids love to do is go to the grocery store. I let them pick out the contents of their lunch, with guidance, and they are now getting to the age where they ask, “Is this nutritional?” “Is this good for my body?” and they also want to know how and why. They get to pick out fruits and veggies, and we spend most of our time in the produce section. We have great cookbooks with lots of pictures and my kids and I will go through them together. They will pick out things that look good, and we will buy them and prepare them. Sometimes, we’ll go in reverse and they will pick out some pretty interesting produce first, and I’m given the fun, yet challenging task of preparing it. For Christmas last year, my girlfriend bought me a cookbook on how to prepare every and any vegetable.<
If I were to answer that question again, “How do I get my kids to eat fruits and veggies?” I would have to answer: dedication, commitment, education. If you believe in the power of fruits and veggies, then your kids will, too. I also had great exposure to them growing up, which helped, but I had a continued interest in them as an adult. The people in my life supported my fruits and veggies habit. In fact, my pediatrician, the one who said to feed greens first, also told me to feed my kids what I am eating (and I eat crazy things). That saves me time and money, as I am not creating three different meals for my family at dinner every night. My kids love “shushi”: miso soup, white rice, and edamame. They are now exploring the cooked rolls like California and Crunch rolls. The end of the meal is their favorite with sliced up oranges and mochi every now and then. They love Thai food: pad thai is a big favorite of theirs. They also love dumplings and of course, veggie fried rice. Beyond Thai and Japanese, Mexican, Italian, and American staples fill their diet. The fro yo craze has not surpassed my kids, and they always choose a fruit topping, along with a candy one. I am a true believer that your kids will follow by example. So, get to know your fruits and veggies, introduce some variety and educate them on the hows and whys. With these tips, hopefully at the next birthday party, you’ll know where to find your kids, in front of the fruit and veggie platter.