Many parents have served their children fruits and vegetables, only to then engage in frustrating battles trying to get their kids to actually eat those healthy foods. Natural goodies like fruits and vegetables just don’t seem appealing to many young people today who are accustomed to eating processed foods like chips, hot dogs, cookies, and snack bars that are heavily marketed as fun foods to eat.
Despite the fact that the fruits and vegetables God has designed contain a treasure trove of beneficial nutrients, American youth fall woefully short of the amount of fruits and vegetables they should eat for good health. A 2009 study from the American Dietetic Association showed that most American children don’t meet the United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption, which is to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Those who failed to meet the minimum amount of fruit consumption: 50.2 percent of kids ages 2 to 5, 74.1 percent of kids 6 to 11, and 80.5 percent of adolescents 12 to 18 years old. Those who failed to meet the minimum amount of vegetable consumption: 78.3 percent of kids ages 2 to 5, 83.8 percent of kids 6 to 11, and 89.5 percent of adolescents 12 to 18 years old. So the majority of U.S. kids don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, and as kids get older, they tend to eat even fewer fruits and veggies than they did before.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which says that fruits and vegetables “provide essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and other substances that are important for good health,” released a 2013 report that shows just how little produce American adolescents are actually eating. Many (36 percent) report consuming fruit less than one time daily, and 37.7 percent of adolescents report consuming vegetables less than once per day.
What’s a parent to do? How can you get your kids to starting eating and enjoying the fruits and vegetables that God created, proclaiming in Genesis 1:29 that they “…will be yours for food”?
The summer – when most fruits and vegetables are naturally in season – is a great time for you to help your children discover how delicious they are and how fun it can be to eat them every day. Here’s how:
Visit your local farmer’s markets together. Buy produce from farmer’s markets in your area this summer to give your family a taste of the freshest fruits and vegetables – ones that come straight to market after they’re harvested. Encourage your children to ask the farmers there questions about how they grew the food you’re buying. Then, at home, enjoy eating your delicious bounty together.
Grow food in a home garden. If you have a yard with enough space for a simple garden, consider growing some basic fruits and/or veggies so your kids can see how food grows from seed to harvest. The process of cultivating their own food can give children and teens a sense of wonder that will inspire them to appreciate fruits and vegetables more than they had before.
Try something new. Introduce your kids to some of the world’s unusual fruits and vegetables to give them a sampling of the wide variety of produce God has made and pique their curiosity to learn more. Rather than just eating fruits and vegetables that your family is familiar with, consider trying exotic fruits such as a kumquat, cherimoya, lychee, physalis, jabuticaba, durian, rambutan, pepino, star fruit, dragon fruit, and miracle fruit. Unusual vegetables your family may want to try include jicama, chard, fiddlehead fern, collard, acorn squash, sea bean, winged bean, chayote, kohlrabi, Roman cauliflower, and Jerusalem artichoke. If your regular grocery store doesn’t sell all of these exotic foods, you can find them by visiting a health food or ethnic food store in your area.
Invite your kids to help you prepare meals and snacks. Give your kids plenty of opportunities to join you as you prepare fruits and veggies for family meals and snacks. When they participate in work such as cleaning, cutting, and cooking your family’s food, they’ll become personally invested in each snack or meal they help with and will then naturally want to eat it.
Present foods creatively. Be fun and playful with the ways you serve fruits and vegetables to your kids. Consider presenting the food in ways such as: cut into artistic shapes (like stars or hearts), arranged to form pictures on plates (such as smiley faces or animals), colored (with food coloring) into unusual hues (like green pineapple or purple carrots) or simply arranged creatively according to their natural color (such as making a salad like a Christmas tree, with ornaments of red cherry tomatoes, white cauliflower, yellow squash or peppers, and black olives against a background of green lettuce or spinach).
Use dips. Most children and teens enjoy dipping fresh fruits and veggies into different types of sauces, and many who won’t eat plain produce will do so when they can dip their food into something. Offer your kids a variety of dipping options: from commonly used dips such as ranch dressing, melted cheese, or chocolate sauce, to more unusual choices like hummus, barbecue sauce, or sour cream. You can even give your kids a chance to mix their own custom dip to accompany their fruits and vegetables.
Plan biblical meals to enjoy together. The Bible mentions some fruits and vegetables by name, and you can reinforce the fact that they’re gifts from God by reading those verses with your children and working together to make family meals that include biblical fruits and veggies. Fruits specifically named in the Bible and some of the many references to them include: figs (Jeremiah 24:1-3 and Mark 11:13), grapes (Genesis 40:10 and Revelation 14:18-19), raisins (Numbers 6:3 and 2 Samuel 6:19), melons (Numbers 11:5 and Isaiah 1:8), apples (Proverbs 25:11 and Song of Solomon 2:5), dates (2 Samuel 6:19 and 1 Chronicles 16:3), and pomegranates (Numbers 20:5 and Deuteronomy 8:8). Vegetables that the Bible mentions by name and some references to them include: olives (Deuteronomy 24:20 and James 3:12), onions (Numbers 11:5), cucumbers (Numbers 11:5), beans (2 Samuel 17:28 and Ezekiel 4:9), leeks (Numbers 11:5), and gourds (2 Kings 4:39 and 1 Kings 6:18).
Once you’ve inspired your kids to eat and enjoy fruits and veggies this summer, they’ll likely continue their new habit of eating well throughout the year!
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, is author of the new Christian novel Dream Factory, which is set during Hollywood’s golden age. Visit her website at: whitneyhopler.naiwe.com.
Publication date: July 19, 2013