Some lucky parents have children who determine from an early age that they like fruit. Other parents, however, aren’t so lucky, and their offspring consider fruit to be in the same category as vegetables: simply an unsavory burden on their plate. And, yet, the fresh produce aisle of the grocery store is more inviting than ever. In season fruits like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, grapes, watermelon hold the promise to appeal to the picky palates of their children. Will this be the summer your kids dare to take a bite and see that fruit is, in fact, delicious?
Elizabeth Ward, a nutrition consultant and author of four diet and health books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler, says most Americans eat about one half of the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. “And this includes children,” she says. “Need is based on calorie requirements. An active eight year old or a relatively inactive twelve year old both require 2 ½ cups of vegetables (or the equivalent) and 2 cups of fruit (or the equivalent) every day.”
For those parents who find themselves in a daily struggle to feed their children fruits and vegetables, Ward suggests getting the kids involved in preparing the meals. “Teaching children how to prepare food is a gift that keeps on giving. You’re teaching them how to take care of their bodies, after all,” Ward says. “Also, many kids love to cook. Being vested in the process somehow makes them more willing to try new foods, such as the fruits and vegetables we struggle to feed them!”
Fresh fruit drinks such as smoothies, shakes, and yogurt drinks can easily become a staple during the hot summer months. In fact, many families make this part of their daily menu. Why? Because kids think they’re drinking blended ice cream, when actually they're unknowingly drinking up their necessary 2-cup-of-fruit requirement.
Children of all ages love a blender. Put your kids to work in the kitchen this summer, and give your blender a whirl. And while you’re at it, why not multi-task and find a few teachable moments over the fruit drinks? This can be a great opportunity to learn about fruits, colors, measurements, sorting, or basic counting. Bryan Taylor, President of EduGuide.org, says some kids will continue their reading over the summer, but most kids suffer major losses in math and science skills. “Families can counter that trend,” Taylor says, “by exercising kids’ mental muscles in fun ways that will prepare them for the marathon of another school year.”
Take the kids with you to the grocery store the next time you go, and let them choose the fruit they’d like to include in their shake. Be sure to point out fruits and vegetables they don’t know or, with younger children, practice reviewing colors. Then help the kids make their own smoothies at home. Banana/mango with frozen yogurt and wheat germ; strawberry/blueberry with plain yogurt, honey, and blended ice; watermelon/raspberry/banana with frozen chocolate yogurt—the possibilities are endless.
Older children can record their own recipes as they experiment each day, writing down the ingredients and quantities of each, younger children can practice washing fruits, measuring cupfuls, and dictating the recipes for you to write down, and very young children can sort fruits by colors, count berries as they put them in the blender, and be the official taste tester (“Does it need more honey?”).
Experiment, measure, sort, count, write, and slurp—mix it up this summer with blended drinks. Just don’t forget the straws!