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Getting kids excited about fruits and vegetables

Last Modified: July 14, 2023

Nutrition & Recipes, Community

Eating habits

As adults, it’s our responsibility to help young people understand the impact of the foods they consume–both in terms of their health and the environment. We spoke with Rachel Stohlman, RDN, LD, community outreach dietitian, and Kristen Canan, greenhouse technician, Parkview Health, who are offering a hands-on experience for sixth through ninth graders during the summer months to promote awareness around growing and cooking produce. They share how you can influence positive nutrition choices in your home.

How does summer break influence the nutritional choices our youth are making?

One major issue is young people having access to nourishing foods. The USDA defines food insecurity as “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.” In Allen County, the food insecurity for children <18 years is 17.4% (16,760 children), which is higher than the national rate of 16.1%.

The second problem is related to food choices. A study completed in 2019 found that both food secure and food insecure children from 8 to 12 years old scored less than 50 on the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) during weekdays and weekend days during the summer. The HEI is a score with the highest rating of 100. If we were looking at diet quality as a test, during the summer, children scored less than 50% on their diet quality test in this study.

Are there any easy ways for parents to include fruits and vegetables in their kids’ diets during the summer months?

There are so many kid-friendly recipes on Pinterest and online, but here are some of our favorite ideas:

  • Take the plunge. Dips can be a fun way of trying new veggies. Take a non-fat plain Greek yogurt and add some herbs, spices or natural extracts to flavor.
  • Stick to what they love. Mash up some fruit, pour into molds and freeze to make refreshing “popsicles.” There are so many recipes for this online! Just make sure you don’t add juices or excess sugar. You can also insert sticks into bananas and freeze.
  • Get on a roll. Make some produce-packed wraps. For savory, spread nonfat cream cheese or hummus on a whole grain tortilla and add in your favorite veggies like dark leafy greens, sliced cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, onions or carrots. For something sweet, take a non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt or nut spread and add in your favorites like berries, cherries, bananas or apples. 
  • Reimagine a classic. Make apple donuts by coring the fruit, slicing and sandwiching over non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt, berries, granola or some chocolate chips in the center. You can also do them as a single layer.

Are there any family activities that parents can introduce to incorporate cooking, growing and/or picking fruits and veggies?

Go big (or small) with your own family garden
No matter your experience level, growing your own food as a family is a rewarding summer activity, even for those families who don’t have the space or time for a full garden. Tower gardens are a great way to save space, or create a container garden for a simple and fun afternoon. With a little creativity and ingenuity, containers like ice cream tubs or milk jugs can be upcycled into artful expressions that are functional for growing your favorite veggies.

Give it another grow
Regrowing vegetables and herbs from kitchen scraps is another engaging way to grow your own food and reuse what you already have. When regrown in water, sprigs of basil and green onion roots will regrow almost before your eyes! Romaine lettuce and bok choy are also superstars of the regrow world, and with some time and care, will fully regrow into a new head. Challenge your kids to experiment with regrowing scraps of different vegetables, such as carrots, turnip roots or potatoes. (Here’s a list from the Farmers’ Almanac for inspiration.) They’ll be surprised at what’s possible!

Go on a shopping trip
Our HEAL farm markets provide locally grown produce at a reduced cost during the summer months. Held on Thursdays, we offer tastings, three Pop-Ins at the Parkview Greenhouse (July 20, August 3 and September 14) and Power of Produce activities for kids, where they can earn $3 to use at the market for participating. These markets are a great way to engage children in picking out foods they will eat for the next week and encourages trying new things. Check here in the coming months for updated information on dates, times and locations.

How can parents keep kids engaged and interested in wellness?

Growing your own food at home is a hands-on way to encourage your children's interest in fruits and vegetables. When deciding what to grow, it may be helpful to choose a fruit or vegetable that your family loves to eat or that you have always wanted to try. This will keep your kids engaged in the care of the plant and motivated to see the project through until it ends up on their dinner plate.

We also encourage families to do wellness activities together. Create wellness goals (such as eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water, increasing physical activity time, decreasing screen time, etc.) as a unit and encourage each other in completing these goals.



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