Win the food fight, get your kids to eat their veggies

Freda, 18 months, munches on a muffin made by her mother, Maria Bocchiaro, at their Conewago Township home. (Photos by Paul Kuehnel)

Maria Bocchiaro recently tried feeding her daughter, Freda, streamed broccoli.

The 18-month-old wouldn’t eat it — even though a week earlier, she gobbled up a mini souffle made with broccoli, brown rice, egg and mozzarella.

Freda’s rejection didn’t phase her mother.

Bocchiaro said Freda eats about five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and has a well-rounded diet. So if Freda turns down a new vegetable, her mom tries preparing it another way.

The 39-year-old Conewago Township mother has a slight advantage in the kitchen — she used to be an executive chef.

Most people don’t eat the recommended two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables a day. It especially can be challenging for parents when feeding their kids.

Who hasn’t fought over food with their kids? But experts say there are better ways to meet your children’s nutritional needs.

As the nation continues to face an obesity epidemic, it’s important to teach your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“It’s a lot easier now for children to develop healthy eating habits than to be in their parents shoes and try to change it,” said Joe Anne Ward-Cottrell, a health educator for WellSpan Health.

Commit and communicate

Jodie Orwig, chief clinical dietitian at Gettysburg Hospital, said if parents want their family to eat healthier, they have to commit to the goal. She said it’s important for parents to explain to their children why being healthier matters.

“It’s such a family thing,” she said about rising obesity rates in children. “The child is just picking up from
the environment that they’re in.”

Think, be positive

Ward-Cottrell said reports show many parents lack self-efficacy — or belief that they’ll succeed — in getting their kids to eat healthier.

A parent’s lack of faith could contribute to a failed mission.

She said parents need to set an example, not only for their health, but because kids mirror what parents do.

Orwig said it helps if parents speak positively about fruits and vegetables during mealtimes.

If your child refuses to try something new, Orwig said, don’t push it until it starts an argument.

But for the long haul, it’s important not to give up. Ward-Cottrell said a child might try something eight to 15 times before deciding if he likes it, and taste buds change with age.

Take a hands-on approach

Julie Flinchbaugh, market manager at Flinchbaugh’s Orchard and Farm Market in Hellam Township, suggested smoothies as a way to allow kids to be creative. Let them choose what they want in their drink.

She also recommended starting a garden to show children where food comes from. When she was a kid, her family had fresh fruit and vegetables at home every day. She said she takes that experience for granted. If you don’t have a lot of space, grow one tomato plant or a small section of sweet corn.

“Those kids are going to remember that,” Flinchbaugh said.

Play with your food

Turn healthy eating into a game by seeing how many different colored fruits and vegetables your kids eat in a week. Let the kids help you cook. Make fruit kabobs, personal pizzas topped with vegetables or ants on a log.

Christine Pilgrim, 41, of West York gets her three young kids to devour broccoli by pretending they are dinosaurs eating trees.

Keep it convenient

Healthy eating takes planning.

Orwig said make a grocery list that focuses on the perimeter of the store — produce, meat, seafood and dairy — and choose a stress-free time to shop. Make a menu for the week, and include a fruit and vegetable in every meal.

She said people are naturally inclined to go for food that’s quick to make and abundant. Cut up fresh cucumbers, carrots and celery, and store them in your refrigerator. Stock up on bags of frozen vegetables that can be added to casseroles, soups, stews and stir-frys.

Bocchiaro usually sets aside one day a week to make a healthy go-to option for Freda, such as a soup or meatballs mixed with cauliflower puree.

Try it another way

Vegetables taste different depending on how they’re prepared. If your daughter doesn’t like steamed carrots, try serving them raw.

Ward-Cottrell said steamed and roasted vegetables are more flavorful than ones that are boiled and sometimes over cooked. Roasting makes vegetables taste sweeter because of the breakdown of carbohydrates.

Set your oven to 400 to 450 degrees and roast your vegetables of choice for 30 minutes.

Be sneaky

Orwig said it’s OK if your kids don’t know all of the ingredients in their food. Add spinach, mushrooms, carrots or zucchini to sauces and casseroles.

Bocchiaro makes muffins with fruit purees. It cuts down on fat and the amount of added sugar.

If all else fails …

Be patient.

“You can’t go from zero to 100 percent in a day,” Ward-Cottrell said. “It is a process.”

And, Orwig said, every effort counts.

Healthy servings

Most people don’t eat the recommended two or more servings of fruit and three or more servings of vegetables per day, according to a 2009 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here’s a breakdown of the numbers.

    Fruit (adults): 33 percent
    Vegetables (adults): 27 percent
    Fruit (high school students): 32 percent
    Vegetables (high school students): 13 percent

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you fill half your plate with fruit and vegetables. To learn more about servings and portion sizes, visit

Childhood obesity

About 17 percent of children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese, a statistic that has tripled since 1980.

Studies have shown that children who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults. Even if kids shed the weight before adulthood, childhood obesity also comes with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, sleep apnea, asthma, joint problems, fatty liver disease, gallstones and heartburn.

Obese children and adolescents also have a greater risk of having social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood.

— Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Spiced carrot muffins

1¾ cups all purpose flour
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
¾ cup plain or Greek yogurt
4 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
¼ cup milk
2 cups shredded carrots or ¾ cup pureed carrots
½ cup raisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 12 muffins tins with paper liners; set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugars, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together yogurt, milk, butter, egg, and vanilla. If using pureed carrots, add the pureed carrots to the wet ingredients. If using shredded carrots, fold into batter last. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add yogurt mixture. Stir until just combined.

Fold in shredded carrots and raisins. Bake for about 20 minutes.

Leigh Zaleski

I'm a health features reporter for the York Daily Record/Sunday News and healthy living blogger for No Sweat, York. Contact me with story ideas at, 717-771-2101 or @leighzaleski on Twitter.

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3 Responses

  1. Roberta says:

    It’s about time soeomne wrote about this.

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