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Troubleshooting a Preschooler's Eating

As kids get older, they tend to accept new foods more easily. I've noticed that Hayley, who is nearly six, has become more adventurous in the past year. There are strategies to improve nutrition while you are waiting for your child to be more accepting of a wide range of foods. Here are some of the most common roadblocks to good nutrition, and some simple solutions.

Your Child Won't Eat Vegetables
Most likely texture and/or taste are the main turn-offs for a vegetable hater. Don't expect vegetable avoiders to chow down on strong-tasting choices such as Brussels sprouts and spinach, no matter how you disguise their flavor with butter or cheese. Unless your child is a toddler who needs softer foods, soggy vegetables may not fly with him, so cook vegetables until they're crisp-tender. Include vegetables as part of soups, casseroles, and meatloaf. Offer vegetable juice instead of fruit juice. To make vegetables more interesting, serve them raw with cheese sauce, yogurt dip, or with salad dressing. Pair up peanut butter or hummus with raw or crisp-tender vegetables and count yourself lucky when they eat that combo. (I am so desperate to get more vegetables into my children that I count hummus and peanut butter as part of their daily required vegetable intake. After all, they are made from plant foods.) Don't count French fries or potato puffs as a vegetable, however. Sure, they start out as potatoes, but by the time manufacturers are done with them, they supply far more fat and far fewer nutrients than in their original form.

Your Child Won't Eat Fruit
Kids usually prefer fruit over vegetables, so your problem may be one of limited intake versus all-out rejection of this food group.

She may not sit and eat an entire banana or pear, but perhaps your preschooler will accept fruit on her cereal, as part of a smoothie, on top of frozen yogurt or ice cream, or baked into cookies and quick breads (she'll never know!). Serve a fruit puree or applesauce instead of syrup for dipping waffles or pancakes. Bake with applesauce or pureed prunes, bananas, or peaches in place of half the fat in recipes for quick breads, including muffins and pancakes, and in cookies. Shredded zucchini and carrots add texture and color to homemade baked goods. Assemble a fruit/cereal/yogurt parfait in a clear plastic glass for breakfast or snack; it's attractive and enticing. Frozen fruit is novel and may encourage intake. Four-year-old Hannah, who is fickle about fruit, likes to nibble on frozen melon and peaches. I serve Hannah cereals such as Raisin Bran, where the dried fruit is built in. Hayley loves frozen blueberries on her breakfast cereal, and I rely on them when fresh blueberries are out of season. Kids love to dip their foods, so try cubed fruit with yogurt dip to encourage consumption, or make simple fruit kabobs to pique their interest. Juice is an easy resort for fruit avoiders, but limit it to 6 ounces a day (4 ounces when your child is eating other fruits and vegetables).

Preschoolers Fall Short on Produce
You know that few kids clamor for apples and bananas and even fewer pester their parents to prepare spinach and broccoli. But the extent of youngsters' produce avoidance is astounding. A report published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that out of 168 preschoolers observed over a five-day period, none ate the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables. The children in the survey ate far more fruits than vegetables, which is encouraging, unless you consider that fruit juice was counted as a fruit serving. Still, kids seem to prefer fruit over vegetables, which offers hope for pumping up kids' consumption of disease-fighting nutrients, particularly antioxidants. Scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture Research Center on Aging at Tufts University tested the antioxidant power of dozens of fruits and vegetables. Here are the most potent of the lot based on their research. As you can see, most of them are fruits.

  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Kale
  • Oranges
  • Plums
  • Raisins
  • Raspberries
  • Red grapes
  • Strawberries

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    Copyright © 2002 by Elizabeth M. Ward. Excerpted from Healthy Foods, Healthy Kids with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

    To order this book visit Amazon.com.

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