Winter 2012-13
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Choose a Colorful Plate

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By Dr. Stephen Pont, MPH, FAAP

Why are vegetables and fruits so wonderful? Well, to begin with they're full of vitamins and minerals. Most are a good source of fiber – and usually you can eat quite a large serving that will fill you up without packing on a lot of calories.

If you have young children or infants the best way to encourage them to eat vegetables is to get started early and for your children to see you eating them too! (Even teenagers watch what you do and are more likely to model your behaviors, so it is definitely better to model good healthy choices!)

Trying new tastes often takes many attempts, so a child may need to try a new food even 10-15 times before you can be certain that he or she really doesn't like it. And children's palates can change over time, so even if they don't like something now, they may like it in the future – especially if it is prepared in a different way.

Sometimes preparing vegetables or fruit can take time, which can seem like a lot of work when you're tired. One way around this is to prepare the vegetables and fruit and have them ready to go when you do have energy. Find that time during the day or during the week when you feel most motivated and wash and cut them up so that they are ready to go when you or your children feel hungry. That way when you become hungry, you'll have vegetables already prepared and ready. You might also place fruit out on a countertop so that it will be the easiest thing for your child to grab as a snack.

Canned and frozen vegetables and fruits can also be very healthy and are still loaded with good vitamins and minerals. Just make sure that they do not contain added sugar or salt. Frozen vegetables and fruits can also be less expensive and will last much longer than fresh produce.

When at a restaurant, try ordering colorful vegetables instead of rice or potatoes and see how much better you feel after the meal. How about apple slices instead of French fries at McDonalds?

If you have a blender, you can also add vegetables to many sauces and soups without your kids noticing. You can think of this as "stealth health." Salad spritzers (the spray salad dressing) can be another way to add flavor to vegetables and salads without adding as many calories as many salad dressings.

Kids will often prefer fruits to vegetables because they are sweeter, but if you try the wide variety of vegetables that are available, then you'll almost certainly find vegetables that you all will enjoy.

Dr. Stephen Pont is a general pediatrician and is the medical director for the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity, Dell Children's Medical Center's tertiary care pediatric weight management center. He also serves as the medical director for Austin Independent School District's Student Health Services.

Twitter  Follow Dr. Pont on Twitter: @DrStephenPont

Choose a Colorful Plate
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Good Health for Kids is produced by Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas.