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Fruits and Vegetables for Kids

The 50-Exposures Rule

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mom and child eating fruit

Mom and Child Eating Fruit

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My friend Jenny is a good mom. She's patient, loving, and she works hard at getting her kids to eat vegetables.

Unfortunately, she hasn't been so successful.

She has tried hiding them in spaghetti sauce, covering them with cheese, making them into animal shapes, planting a garden with the kids, and, yes, pureeing them a la The Sneaky Chef and Jessica Seinfeld.

Still, she can't get her kids to look at a broccoli floret without gagging.

Will They Ever Eat a Plate of Green Beans on Their Own?

What's a concerned mom to do?

The good news is the problem isn't Jenny at all. In fact, every one of her approaches works. They just don't work the first time.

The 50-Exposures Rule

You see, kids have to be exposed to vegetables 10, 20, even 50 times, before they develop a taste for them.

Fortunately, that doesn't mean you have to strap your four-year-old to a chair, and force him to eat a bowl of steamed broccoli 10, 20 or 50 times.

Nor do you have to enforce two-bite rules. Or bribe, beg or threaten. And you certainly don't have to become the Michaelangelo of vegetable art.

In fact, you can expose your kids to vegetables without even getting the kids to taste them. (Whoopie! Are you throwing a party now?)

What Counts?

An exposure can be anything from a child seeing the vegetable on the table to allowing it to be placed on her plate, to trying it and spitting it out, to preparing it without eating it, to actually eating it and much more.

Watching vegetables grow from seedlings to fruiting plants is an exposure. That's why experts recommend you start a garden with your kids.

Cooking vegetables with your kids is an exposure. That's why experts recommend you cook with your kids.

Heck, even just being able to identify what a variety of vegetables are is an exposure. That's why going to a farmer's market with kids is helpful. Letting them pick out something new is even more helpful. Then – and this is the hard one – allowing them to reject it, or worse, not even taste it when you get home, is helpful, too.

Why You Must Let Kids Reject Vegetables

It's all part of the process of getting to know vegetables, getting used to them, and then growing to like them. Sound like anything else in life you've experienced?

How many times have you heard stories about people who didn't even like each other when they first met, then they end up getting married? Indeed, psychologists have proven that it is presence, not absence, that makes the heart grow fonder.

For the Love of Broccoli

That's the only way I can explain why broccoli and carrots top many kids' lists of their favorite vegetables.

Carrots are a no brainer. They have one of the highest sugar content of any vegetable, so it isn't hard to develop a taste for carrots.

Broccoli, on the other hand, is completely the opposite. It not only tastes somewhat bitter, it has a weird texture, and it looks, well, funny.

Yet when asked to identify a vegetable their kids will eat, parents frequently cite broccoli.

I believe that is because parents frequently serve broccoli, either because they like it themselves, or because it goes well with cheese, dips, macaroni, and other familiar foods kids like.

Clearly, it must be the frequency of seeing broccoli over and over again that causes it to be named one of kids' favorite vegetables. Because there is nothing inherently attractive about broccoli on a sensory or taste basis that should make it so.

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