Children should eat more fruit; but it is often a struggle to get them to do so. It is challenging for parents to get their kids to eat any things that are healthy.
One way of making healthy food interesting to kids is to involve them in gardening, growing and picking the food they eat, or just by helping in the kitchen. Small children are especially keen and love getting involved so this is the time to catch them! Many kids don’t even realise that there is more to what they eat then opening the pantry or fridge door. It’s a process. If you get them involved in that process you can establish an interest in food and good eating habits.
Four ways to get kids motivated to eat fruit:
1. Help them to grow it– planting and watching things grow is a real motivator for young children.
2. Let them pick the fruit - we gain a sense of ownership when we are involved in a process; kids love picking fruit, but they may eat half before it gets to the kitchen!
3. Encourage them to help process or prepare the food, small kids just love doing things in the kitchen.
4. Turn the fruit into a treat i.e. something different and more attractive: a smoothie or fruit leather is often more attractive to a child than a whole apple.
Growing and tending fruit involves planting, watering, fertilising, pruning or other tasks – many of which can involve your children. Children love planting things so get them to help you plant new fruits. Don’t choose things that will take years to fruit though, a child will lose interest if they don’t see a reasonably fast result.
Strawberries are a great, easy to grow, fast to develop crop that will fruit in its first season after planting. They are also at ground level so are easy for a child to plant, tend and harvest. Some fruit trees also produce fruit quite quickly – or just buy a 3 year old tree. Dwarf trees are also a great idea – most fruit varieties come on dwarfing rootstock, or are multi-grafted with two or several varieties for easy pollination but little space, apples are a great example. Lemons also come as dwarf trees now – try the ‘Lots of Lemons’ variety for a tiny, yet amazingly productive tree, that is truly child-sized.
Fruits you can harvest within about a year include strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, tamarillo, pepino, pawpaw and cape gooseberries. For 2-3 years try citrus, banana, apples, pears, grapes and so on (you can buy more mature, already fruiting, plants too).
Harvesting is great fun – kids love it. Let them help you pick the fruit in the garden or take them to a ‘pick your own’ farm, when fruit is in season. It’s a great day out and a sure way of getting them interested in eating fruit. Even involving kids in choosing and buying from a farm shop or green grocer is a way of giving them some investment in what they eat. This may not be as good as picking their own crops but it is still far better than choosing something from a bowl of fruit filled by mum or dad.
Dried fruit: this is attractive to children – dried orange slices or bananas (dipped in chocolate as a real treat).
Frozen bananas, mango slices etc.: These are like ice treats on a hot day or use them to make cold smoothies.
Encourage them to help you make preserves such as bottled fruit and jams – they could cut the fruit and measure the ingredients for you, and you do the more precarious jobs such as handling the hot jams and jars. Jams may not be the healthiest way to eat fruit but you can use low sugar recipes and it is just a way to stimulate interest in fruit, other than in its raw state, which may not be as interesting to them.
Kids may feel ‘forced’ to eat fruit by parents, what should be a pleasurable experience may end up feeling like a chore. Fruit can be a main ingredient in many foods that can become treats – fruit pies, fruit drinks, etc. There are also lots of ways to bake interesting cakes and muffins using fruit such as banana, apple, apricot, peaches and berries.
Consider the attributes of fruit that are attractive to children: flavour, sweetness, texture. Discover the fruit flavours that attract your children most – eg. strawberry, blueberry, banana, mango, citrus or whatever and then explore how those flavours can be used to create their favourite foods. You could try making fruit leathers and fruit bars but remember that they can be quite high in sugar so keep those as a real treat.
You don’t need a large yard to interest your children in growing and eating fruit. If space is short try pot, hanging baskets or tubs. Strawberries do well in hanging baskets. Dwarf fruit trees will grow well in pots too. Use good potting media then feed and water them well – another job for the kids!
For fruits that take a while to become productive, it’s always a good idea to plan ahead – Why not buy and plant some fruit trees when a child is a baby or toddler. As the child grows, tell them this is their tree, planted on their first or second birthday. By the time they start school “their” tree will be producing. If you can engender “ownership” of the tree in their psyche, you will be one step ahead in getting them to eat the fruit.
There are many ways to present fruit as part of a child’s lunch – keeping in mind that many schools now ask parents to avoid cakes, muffins or other sweet treats in lunch boxes, even those containing fruit.
Children love colourful things so try blueberries, strawberries (cut in half) and other berries plus a small tub of unsweetened or vanilla yoghurt for them to use as a dip.
On hot days include water melon or rock melon for a refreshing snack.
Mandarins are easy to peel and most children love them.
Apples: if your child avoids a whole apple, cut it into wedges and squeeze a bit of lemon juice over them – it prevents browning and also cleans their teeth!
Try home-made fruit bread sandwiches instead of ‘normal’ bread.
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