(Family Features) - It's never too early to start teaching children about cooking. Involving kids in meal preparation encourages healthy eating habits and introduces them to the value and importance of nutritious, balanced meals.
Elizabeth Pivonka, Ph.D., R.D., heads Produce for Better Health Foundation, the nonprofit entity behind the Fruits & Veggies - More Matters national public health initiative. Pivonka says the kitchen can be a great place to stir up some fun while teaching healthy eating habits.
As a working mother of two, Pivonka understands that getting kids to eat healthy fruits and vegetables can sometimes be a challenge. "Involving children in cooking is an important step in getting kids interested in fruits and vegetables and getting them more excited about eating them," she says. "Kids can help by measuring, mixing or gathering ingredients while you cook. If kids help with the cooking, they are more inclined to eat what's on the table. At my house, we make meal planning and preparation a family activity."
Let toddlers help you "cook" by using toy food, pots, pans, bowls and spoons to copy what you're doing. Preschoolers can help by measuring ingredients and stirring. Grade school kids can make simple, no-bake recipes or use the microwave with proper supervision. Remember to use child-size tools and, if the counter is too high, use a sturdy step stool or have children sit at the kitchen table while they help.
Pivonka says taking a little extra time at the grocery store to interact with kids and single out fruits and vegetables as important is another way to persuade kids to give them another try.
"Kids like to have fun with their food, so one way to get them to eat something is to offer it with a dip," Pivonka says. "Once children turn about two years old, they can really get into dipping and might try things they wouldn't otherwise if they're served with some kind of dip."
She offers some dipping suggestions like low-fat ranch dressing, mild salsa, guacamole, or hummus for dipping vegetables, or any flavor of low-fat yogurt or peanut butter for dipping fruit. Pear Ka-bobs with Strawberry Dipping Sauce and Pear Party Salsa are two fun recipes that let children dip their food.
"Make sure their snacks are just as nutritious as their meals. If you're looking for a 100-calorie snack, don't reach for a prepackaged processed item.
One medium-sized fresh pear is a portable, single serving that tops out at 100 calories with no fat, sodium or cholesterol. Fresh pears, tomatoes, and other fruits and veggies are now available all year round. Their versatility and nutritional value make them very popular with people of all ages. They're budget friendly and good for your health."
Parents interested in tips for getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables, and delicious recipe ideas for dishes that children will willingly eat are encouraged to visit the Fruits & Veggies-More Matters website, www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org. The website also features some materials to make taking your child food shopping with you an educational experience. The Take Your Child to the Supermarket materials are available to everyone online, free of charge. Just print them out and plan a trip to the store.
For more information about pears, including family-friendly recipes, tips for kids, and even online games featuring fresh USA Pears grown in Oregon and Washington, visit www.usapears.org. For information about the other ingredients featured in these recipes, visit www.florida-agriculture.com.