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Turn your picky eater into a fruit and veggie fan

A father helps a child eat sandwich with lettuce.

Learn how to help kids enjoy more produce—without food fights.

OK, you know this: Kids need plenty of nutrient-packed fruits and veggies to stay healthy and strong. But what might stump you is how to actually get your child to eat—and most of all, enjoy—produce.

If so, these nine tips can help win over even picky eaters. They're courtesy of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Academy of Pediatrics and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

1. Don't miss opportunities. Serve produce with every meal and snack. For example:

  • At breakfast, top cereal with berries or dried fruit. Or scramble eggs with a rainbow of chopped veggies.
  • At lunch, stuff sandwiches with veggies or pack fresh fruit for sweetness.
  • At dinner, serve veggie sides or a fruit salad.
  • For snacks, offer raw veggies with a low-fat dip or salsa.

2. Make it fun. For little ones, add appeal by naming the food you're serving after them. "Stephanie's salad" or "Ben's blueberries," for example. Or create produce pictures on their plate. Use grapes for eyes, a baby carrot nose and a bell pepper mouth.

3. Put it in plain sight. If your child is a fussy eater, you might have relied on sneaking fruits and veggies into dishes in the past. That's OK on occasion, but this shouldn't be your only strategy. Make fruits and veggies the stars of some meals. Kids need to see whole produce often in order to embrace it.

4. Get the most from salads. Dark, leafy greens deliver the most nutrients; pale ones the least. To nudge your child toward more nutritious greens, toss together a mix of pale greens like iceberg lettuce and darker ones like spinach.

5. Make swaps. Expand your child's tastes by replacing a familiar fruit or veggie in a favorite recipe with something your child hasn't tried yet. You might add jicama to coleslaw, kale to stir fries or plantains to stew.

Once your child likes a new food, introduce others with a similar color, texture or taste. For instance, if kids like pumpkin pie, try out mashed sweet potatoes. Then move on to mashed carrots.

6. Be a role model. Kids mimic the adults in their lives. So eat lots of produce yourself and branch out by trying new kinds. Someone's watching.

7. Dish up choices. Give kids a chance to weigh in on the menu. At the grocery store or a farmers market, let your child have a say in what produce goes in your cart or bag. Ask, "Which sounds best tonight: green beans, carrots or peas?" Take advantage of any produce taste tests too—they're another way to expand your child's comfort zone.

8. Build kitchen skills. At home, recruit your child as a helper during meal prep. That helps kids feel invested in what's served. Even a toddler can pitch in by tearing lettuce or washing produce with your supervision. Older kids might help choose recipes or prepare a side dish.

9. Plant a garden. Kids may be more excited to gobble up what they helped grow. If space is limited, try planting a few herbs in pots on a windowsill to spice up fruit and veggie dishes.

Fend off food fights

What if—despite your best efforts—your child is still a hard sell?

As good as your intentions may be, never try to force your child to eat any food, regardless of its merits. That pressure may backfire and cause a child to actively dislike something they might someday enjoy.

Low-key persistence pays off. It may take up to a dozen tries for a child to accept a new food. So stock up on patience. Time is on your side.

Discover the perks of family meals—and how to make them happen.

Reviewed 3/6/2024


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