How to Raise a Veggie Lover
As any parent of young children knows, feeding kids is a big job. You want your kids to enjoy food, but you also want them to eat the right things so they grow up healthy. While the early years have their challenges, they also represent a remarkable time of growth when habits form. Evidence suggests that there is a unique window of opportunity between four and seven months of age when we can cultivate taste preferences and teach young children to love vegetables.
In honor of National Nutrition Month, we’re excited to share why vegetables matter so much and offer tips on how to raise a veggie lover for life.
First Foods Matter
Despite vegetables being critical to a healthy life, infants and toddlers just don’t eat enough of them. In fact, only 10 percent of young kids consume the daily recommended amount. While children are born with an innate preference for sweet flavors, children’s palates can be shaped by early dietary experiences. Starting at age two, children become more selective about what they eat, so these first foods truly matter.
Veggies Early and Often
It takes patience and persistence when it comes to introducing children to the bitter flavors of vegetables. In fact, it can take 10 or more tastes for a child to accept a new vegetable. That can feel like a lot when your toddler scrunches up their face or spits out their food.
Don’t Mask Flavors
Parents and baby food makers have been known to hide vegetables in other foods – often fruit purees. This only accelerates and reinforces a child’s inherent preference for sweet. It also distorts the true flavor of a naked vegetable.
Veggie Variety is Key
Introducing variety is just as important as quantity because each vegetable provides different nutrients, each of which contribute to good health. For example, the bright orange color of a sweet potato or carrot provides beta-carotene while the purple color of a turnip provides vitamins A, C, and K. Introduce as many different colors and textures of vegetables as you can.
For any of this to stick, parents and caregivers must model the behavior they hope to see. So include veggies in your own meals and have them as visible snacks on the counter.
Look for PHA’s ‘Veggies Early & Often’ Icon
At PHA, through our Veggies Early & Often campaign, we’re working with baby and toddler food makers to reformulate or create new and affordable foods that put vegetables first. We’re working with early childhood educators to add more veggies and veggie-forward options to their menus. Our icon is a reliable indicator for parents and consumers of food products that contain a meaningful amount of vegetables.
Interested in More Tips & Tricks?
For more tips and tricks, check out these free resources created by PHA, the Dr. Yum Project, and a multidisciplinary team of child experts, that provide proactive tips and practical activities to boost feeding development and build healthy habits at every stage of a child’s feeding journey.