Many of the families served by our Y live in what’s called a “food desert,” meaning the nearest grocery store is more than a mile away. This distance creates a barrier that limits their access to fresh produce and makes it especially challenging to introduce healthy eating habits to young children.
Our Y is not alone. Nationwide, 28 million Americans live in food deserts, with one in six children facing food insecurity. In response to local needs, YMCA of Western North Carolina launched a mobile food kitchen. We bring fresh fruits and vegetables to the community—serving those who cannot easily travel to the grocery store. Our adventures on the road inspired these three tried-and-true ideas for getting kids to change their attitude about fruit and vegetables.
IDEA 1: Get messy!
Kids love to engage with food. Not only does it help them develop sensory skills and try new things, but also connects them to what they’re doing. One way my team does this without getting too messy is by making a healthy banana pudding in a bag. All it involves is unsweetened apple sauce, half a banana, some granola, nonfat vanilla yogurt and a sealable plastic bag. Kids can scoop all of the ingredients into the bag (enter messy) and zip it shut. Once it’s in the bag, they can squeeze it all together, mashing up the banana and mixing it in with the other ingredients. Once it has been successfully “blended”, we hand out spoons and they can eat it right from the bag!
IDEA 2: Empower!
One of the fastest ways to lose a kid’s interest in cooking is to say, “You’re not old enough to [enter task].” One of the more common tasks that tend to be skipped over for kids is handling a knife in a kitchen. As a staff member or parent, this can be rightfully daunting, but it can also provide a skill that is much needed. My team lets kids engage with cutting veggies and fruit by supervising students with lettuce knives. They are plastic, serrated and much safer knives designed to cut lettuce, but they are equally effective in teaching safe knife skills.
IDEA 3: Stay positive!
We have all had the moment where we tried a new food and instantly were hit with the reaction to spit it out and make the puckered up “ick” face. When we do that, what happens to those around us? Most of the time everyone has a similar reaction regardless of their feelings toward the food; kids do the same, but that reaction is magnified one hundred times over.
When introducing new foods, a good tip is to implement a “no ick face” rule and in place of the face have them say something along the lines of, “I don’t like it now, but I’ll try it again.” It helps to reinforce a positive class environment as well as the attitude of trying new foods again even if something wasn’t received well the first time.