My 5-year-old niece surprised her mom, my sister, the other day by liking cauliflower and requesting it for supper. Cauliflower, and vegetables in general, are usually not what kids consider "favorite foods" and it reminded me of the days when my kids were little and some of the things I tried to get them to do is "eat their vegetables." My other sister, who is also a dietitian, employed the rule of 10 with her kids - they needed to try a new food at least 10 times before they could say for sure that they didn't like it and then they didn't have to put it on their plate.
Feeding kids can be tricky and what they like one day, may not be what they like the next time they try it and vice versa. So how do you get kids to try new foods, especially healthy new foods? The past generation of kids has grown up on convenience foods and super-size portions. With the epidemic of obesity in children rising every year, the nation has started to address some of the issues that are associated with this problem.
We've heard about the changes in the school lunch program. The foods and meals that kids eat at home play a big role in addressing this issue too, and parents play a key role in offering and role modeling healthy eating practices. I'm reminded of a story that Virginia Wilson, the Extension community nutrition educator for Yellow Medicine County, told about the time she brought sweet potatoes for the kids in the class to try. Most of the kids first turned up their noses to the new food and said they knew they didn't like sweet potatoes. But after they had touched it, cut it up, prepared it with the recipe that she brought and sampled it, most of them actually did like it! In fact, a mom came up to her several weeks later and told her that her son had requested that she fix sweet potatoes for the family because he really liked them!
My niece and the cauliflower reminds me of that story. I told my sister that cauliflower is really tasty with cheese melted on it. I had a mother tell me once that she could get her kids to eat almost any vegetable if it had cheese melted on it or if they had something like non-fat yogurt or fat free ranch dressing to dip them in! Those are great tactics to get kids to eat and learn to appreciate the flavors and tastes of new foods.
If kids can actively participate in the selection and/or preparation, it's likely that they will have a more open mind to trying it. You can let them choose a new vegetable to try when they accompany you to the grocery store. You can let them help you prepare it and plan a meal around it. You can let them serve it and then talk about it at the meal to see how they might like it served another time. For example, if red peppers are going to be the new food to try, you could serve them with fajitas at one meal and then try them in tacos or a casserole or pizza at another.
I think the key to it all is to be creative and make it fun. It's long past time to make healthy food fun and enjoyable.
Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center. In addition to her column, you can also find nutrition tips and ideas on the blog she writes at www.averastorycenter.org.