Build Your Child’s Love for Veggies!
Nurture your child’s love for veggies by setting the stage for healthy eating habits now, these expert tips will guide you.
We are so ready for the changes that this year continues to bring. After a year that challenged us all, parents of young children should be proud—and really, really tired!—of rising above the many obstacles to ensure a healthy, loving environment for their families. More time together at home has given us unique opportunities to explore and nurture a healthier lifestyle, including a healthy diet, which is especially important for growing babies and toddlers. Let’s keep up this momentum by making this the year we build a love for veggies in our homes! Research shows that encouraging a vegetable-forward eating pattern in infants and toddlers, along with palate development and avoiding added sugar, sets the stage for eating habits that support the growth and development of healthy little ones who are more likely to become healthy teens and adults. Let’s set the stage!
Vegetables provide a variety of important micronutrients that are vital for young children’s healthy development and growth. Many chronic diseases are the result, at least in part, of poor food choices. Evidence suggests that increased consumption of vegetables may reduce risks of several of those chronic diseases, like heart disease and cancer. Plenty of veggies in the diet also promotes healthy body weight and may reduce risk of obesity later on in life.
Sadly, vegetables are under consumed by many children. Studies show that one in three infants between ages of 6 and 8 months and one in five infants between the ages of 9 and 11 months consumed no vegetables or fruits on a given day. Young children are more likely to be noshing on potatoes and sweet and salty snacks with added salt and sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages, which have been associated with increased risk of overweight or obesity. The trend continued with older children, which can lead to unhealthy habits as adults.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans promotes health through diet and nutrition. According to the latest 2020 infant recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the nutritional needs of young children between six months and two years old are best met with foods that contain key nutrients, like vegetables. This leaves little if any room for foods with added sugars. The recommendations indicate that no amount of added sugar is okay for a baby’s development. It also recommends avoiding foods and beverages with added sugars for the first two years of life.
It’s so important to introduce vegetables to children as soon as possible during the weaning process. According to research, weaning is a crucial stage of palate development when taste preferences are forming, so it’s best to shape them with only natural foods that are free of added sugars.
Baby’s first foods play an essential role in promoting healthy eating habits. Infants and toddlers from birth to 24 months are most receptive to new foods. In fact, infants have the strongest capacity to learn to like new foods, making this an ideal time to introduce their first vegetables and establish habits that can lead to a lifelong healthy diet. Contrary to the idea of fruits as baby’s first solid foods, research shows that starting baby on vegetables is more successful for vegetable acceptance than fruits.
Veggie purees are ideal first foods for baby. Research shows that repeated vegetable exposure in the first year of eating is the most effective way to increase veg intake and liking in infants. Start with single vegetables, like carrots or green beans. Continue to gently offer, but never force food if baby refuses. It can take up to ten tries for little ones to accept new foods. So, don’t give up! The goal is to familiarize baby with new tastes and textures, which then leads to acceptance.
The first step to setting the stage for veggie love is to stock up on a variety of veggies. Definitely shop for fresh, in-season vegetables. Choose organics when you can. The farmers market and farm stands are great resources if they’re local. Vegetables can be pureed for the youngest palates, cooked to soften when needed, or cut into bite-sized pieces—and they’re easily frozen for convenience.
Frozen, canned, and jarred veggies extend storage time and provide variety all year long. Be sure to choose products with no added ingredients, like salt, sugar, additives, and preservatives. Products made for infants and toddlers can be a lifesaver, as they’re ready to serve. Look for brands that are completely transparent, and use only the highest quality ingredients that you want for your little one and nothing you don’t.
The pantry is stocked, your little one is hungry, so let’s get some veggies on the table and build up some love with these tips for your tots.
- Change it Up. Serve each veg in a variety of age appropriate ways to give your tot every opportunity to give it a try. Raw wasn’t a hit? Next time try boiled, roasted, warm, cold, soft, crunchy—and then repeat raw. You can also try mixing veg purees into other foods or veggies they already like, as well as add them into baked goodies, like my Berry Yummy Oat Baby Muffins or my Superkid Carrot Cake Muffins.
- Make it Fun. It’s all about fun and giggles at this young stage, so why not during mealtime? Veggies are brightly colored, can be cut into a number of finger-food shapes, from matchsticks and circles to moons and stars (cookie cutters are great for this). Surprise your tot even more by serving their veggies in the shape of a smiley face, a dog, or a flower. Add a yummy dip or two, and it’s a party at the table!
- Let Them Choose. Even if they’re very young, involve your little one in veggie shopping or growing if you have access to a garden or farm. Name the veg, talk about its shape, color, flavor, let them touch it or hold it, and then ask them if you should bring it home to try. At home, bring little ones into the kitchen to watch you prepare meals. Give them a choice between carrots and squash, and praise them for such a yummy choice.
- Join In. One of the most influential ways to encourage a love for veggies, or any food, is to model it. Even if you’re not sharing every meal with baby yet, include them at the table as the family is enjoying veggies. Toddlers can definitely begin to eat some of the foods the family is eating. Make a big deal about that butternut squash as you all enjoy it together and see what happens. If there’s no love this time, trust in the process.
Written by Lori Zanteson with Sharon Palmer.
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