Getting children to eat their fruits and vegetables isn’t impossible. Parents can choose to surprise them with different meals and dishes every day.
Medical advisor Magnolia Escobar Castrillón, nutritionist and dietitian,
practitioner at Coomeva Private Healthcare
It is a well-known fact that for children to eat their vegetables, parents must do so too. Vegetables should be an everyday part of home life and it should be apparent that adults enjoy them and include them in their meals. It is also crucial for vegetables to be introduced to children in fun and different ways; allowing children to touch them, identify the difference between their flavors, learn about their colors and even help to prepare them.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) clearly states that fruits and vegetables are a fundamental part of nutrition due to the vitamins and minerals they contain, which perform a series of functions in the body. Vitamin A, for example, helps maintain eye health and helps fight infections. B vitamins are necessary to transforming food into energy. Vitamins C and E have antioxidant properties that protect cells from carcinogens; and vitamin C, alone, can increase calcium absorption, which is an essential mineral for bone and dental health.
Vegetables also contain high amounts of fiber, the digestion of which helps to eliminate potentially harmful substances. In addition to all of this, as the World Health Organization emphasizes, consuming enough vegetables could save up 1.7 million lives a year. The WHO also recommends eating at least five servings (400 g) of fruits and vegetables a day.
Magnolia Escobar Castrillón, nutritionist, dietitian and Master of Public Health states that parents can include fruits and vegetables in the three main meals of the day and in snacks. She also reemphasizes leading by example, as it is often common for parents to tell their children to eat vegetables, yet not eat them themselves, or scold them for drinking soda even when they always drink it with lunch.
It is therefore important to modify the methods used to prepare meals and for the meal’s presentation to be a surprise, “It shouldn’t always have to be carrot soup. Vegetables, for example, can be served in the form of a salad. This is how they will begin to learn to vary their diet and develop a love for these dishes…Teaching them, in your own language, that they are important for their growth and development”.
Vegetables are best consumed fresh and careful attention should be paid to washing them. Be sure to use plenty of water, and even use products available on the market that help get them extra clean.
Part of their diet
All vegetables are rich in nutrition, “And the variety and regularity of what they are given is what make children eat well. You have to be consistent”.
As the nutritionist explains, parents must be creative with motivating children. When children resist eating vegetables, parents need to insist, but should use their imagination, “If you can’t get your child to eat their lunch, the recommendation is to wait a few days to serve it to them in a different way”.
One excuse that you hear from some parents is that they don’t have enough time to think of different meals and dishes. However, as Escobar says, “It is not a problem to slice a few carrot sticks. It’s about taking on the commitment of good nutrition from when they are little”.
Playing around with different types of dishes, aromas, flavors, colors and textures is another key, especially when it comes to packing a lunch.
“Planning meals for six to eight days is another alternative. Make a grocery list of the ingredients that are needed and involve children in preparing food, teaching them why they are used and including vegetables, preferably raw, that can be eaten alone or mixed in,” states Escobar. The idea is to get them familiar, little by little, with the wide world of vegetables; one that is varied, nutritious and delicious.
Try packing a lunch that has a sandwich with tomatoes and lettuce or throw in some carrot sticks to get them to eat something natural and crunchy.
This will introduce them to the world of vegetables.
Some ideas for including vegetables:
With chicken: Oven-baked chicken strips, rice with vegetables, a serving of fruit and water.
With beef: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, vegetables or a salad (let the child choose), fruit and water.
With pasta: Macaroni and cheese, peas and carrots. Don’t forget fruit and water.
Other ideas: A sandwich with tomato and lettuce, and peas for eyes to make it fun.
Color is the key
The FAO stresses the importance of eating foods that are different colors, which represent different combinations of nutrients. Here are some ideas:
Red: Beets, cherries, red guava, strawberries and tomatoes.
Orange / yellow: Carrots, mangoes, melons, oranges, papayas, pineapples, pumpkin and yellow corn.
Green: Avocados, broccoli, cucumbers, kiwi, peas and spinach.
Blue and purple: Blueberries, eggplant, grapes, passion fruit and plums.
White: Garlic and onion.
Steering them away from junk food
Red PaPaz, a nonprofit organization that advocates for protecting the rights of children and adolescents in Colombia, has developed a campaign called, “Enough! Don’t buy into any more lies, or give them to your kids. Let’s keep junk food advertisements out of their world,” (¡Basta! No comas más mentiras ni se las des a tus hijos, saquemos la publicidad de comida chatarra de su mundo). The campaign warns of the need to avoid this population’s exposure to advertisements on products that are ultra-processed and high in sugar, sodium and saturated fats as a step forward in the fight to stopping and reducing the growing rates of being overweight and obese. More information is available on the webpage www.nocomasmasmentiras.org.