It isn’t always easy to change kids’ eating habits, but summer can be a great time to try. Take advantage of the abundance of choices that are more cost effective to buy (or grow) during the summer months.
In our home, we have one adventuresome eater and one very picky eater. Getting the picky eater to eat at least one fruit a day is a major challenge (let alone any type of vegetable). It’s usually during the summer when I can make more progress in expanding my son’s limited food choices.
I highly recommend taking the kids to a farmer’s market if you don’t already do so. There’s something about seeing fresh produce straight from the farm that can get kids’ eyes to widen and want to try more foods. Our kids were amazed when they discovered that bell peppers not only came in green but also red, yellow, orange, and purple. So we bought one of each color to create a beautiful and delicious stir-fry.
I also remember when our family discovered jicama, a vegetable you can slice up and eat raw like carrots. We’ve also tried fruits and vegetables that we didn’t care for, but what’s essential is to keep trying new foods and new ways to prepare them. (For example, one of our family members dislikes cooked cabbage but really enjoys eating it raw.)
Too often, we get caught in the rut of eating the same foods over and over. Here’s a fun way to step out of the rut: create a family challenge! Go to the grocery store or farmer’s market each week, and try to find a new vegetable or fruit to try.The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a helpful website for learning more about vegetables and fruits, and they recently changed the former food pyramid to an easier-to-understand food plate model.
We have a small backyard, but we’ve created a small vegetable garden based on the book, Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work by Mel Bartholomew. This year, we’ve put up a fence to keep out the rabbits since last year the rabbits harvested everything from the garden before we did. You don’t need a lot of space to garden. One of our friends grows lettuce in a pot in her home. Others have planted herbs or tomatoes in pots that sit on balconies, patios, or next to windows. What’s essential is to do something that’s easy and something you and your kids will enjoy. There’s no use growing zucchini if no one will eat it.
Everyone in our family also loves raspberries, so we have a raspberry patch as well. Since gardening is specific for the state that you’re in, learn more about what you can easily grow in your area. In a web search engine, search for “cooperative extension service” and the name of your state. Then click on “gardening” when you find the source.
Read about gardening and eating vegetables. If you have young children, check out Eating the Rainbow by Star Bright Books. If you have children between the ages of 4 to 8, read Lois Ehlert’s books, such as Eating the Alphabet, Planting a Rainbow, and Growing Vegetable Soup. For children between the ages of 9 to 12, Sharon Lovejoy’s book, Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children is always a classic. For young and older teens, the book written by a dad and his daughter, The Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook by Ron and Jennifer Kujawski makes gardening easy.
Summer is also a great time to begin thinking about next year. Planting typically happens in the spring. Yet, depending on where you live, you can have multiple plantings. Some families have planted a garden where they grow all the toppings for pizza. Others plant a salsa garden. Some create a garden that has a mix of flowers and vegetables.
What matters is to get your kids excited about connecting with eating vegetables and fruits and gardening. When our kids were little and we had little time, we planted pumpkins in our backyard. As the pumpkins started to grow, we took a knife and gently carved the names of each of our kids into a different pumpkin without puncturing it. They loved watching the pumpkin—and their name—grow! They then discovered how much fun it was to eat roasted pumpkin seeds in the fall.
So make time to munch through the garden with your kids this summer, or visit the produce section of your grocery store, co-op, or farmer’s market and discover more fresh vegetables and fruits. The more you make this a part of your family routine, the more likely your kids will see that eating healthy is one of your family’s positive values.
2. Ron and Jennifer Kujawki, The Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook (North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2011).
3. Sharon Lovejoy, Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children (NY: Workman Publishing, 1999).
4. Mel Bartholomew, Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work (Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books, 2005).
6. Image via comprock on Flick’r.