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Play Restaurant to Get Kids to Eat More Fruits & Veggies


Do you have trouble getting your kids to eat enough fruits and veggies?  Do they fill up on every item but vegetables at the dinner table?  If you answered yes to either of these questions, read on to find out how to play restaurant and watch your kids eat more fruits and vegetables!

We have all been to a restaurant and had salad served to us before our entrée arrives.  Like myself, I am sure there have been times when you’ve found yourself satisfied before the main course.

Several studies have shown that eating low-energy-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and broth-based soups, promotes satisfaction.  According to Ello-Martin et al, eating satisfying portions of lower calorie foods like salad and soup can help to enhance fullness, control hunger, and limit calorie intake.  In one study (Spill et al, 2010), 3 to 5 year old children were served a first course of raw carrots followed by a main course meal.  Researchers found that total vegetable intake at the meal increased as the portion size of carrots increased.  In addition, these kids ate 47% more carrots when the portion of carrots served was doubled!

So why not play restaurant in your home and serve salad, fruit, or soup as a first course?  Doing so may result in higher fruit and vegetable eating, a healthy habit that promotes a healthy weight.

Here are ways you can play restaurant:

  1. Tell your kids you are going to play restaurant at your house and have a first course before the main course.  Put a bowl of salad on the table before you set out the rest of the meal.  Allow everyone to take as much salad as they like.  Set any salad dressing out on the table so each person can put a desired amount on their salad (Any undressed salad left in the bowl can be saved for later).  When all have had their fill, bring out the main course.  Serve even more fruit or veggies at your family-style meal.
  2. Use your imagination when creating the first course.  Pair foods you know your child already likes with unaccepted ones.  Add favorite fresh or dried fruits, nuts, or seeds to a salad.  Include beans or other vegetables in a broth-based soup your family loves.
  3. Be mindful of “the extras” when you play restaurant.  Salads can be calorie-dense if they contain large amounts of calorie-dense foods!  For example: cheeses, nuts, croutons and salad dressings can pump up the calories in a salad.  Choose one at a time and use reduced fat cheeses or salad dressings, if desired.
  4. Salad Stuffed? Try setting out fresh fruit or a vegetable tray as an appetizer before the dinner meal starts.  This is a great way to satisfy your famished family while they are waiting for you to finish meal prep.

Note:  It’s ok if everyone doesn’t eat the first course.  If you are applying the Division of Responsibility, you determine what will be served and your kids determine what they will eat and how much.  Exposing your children to fruits and veggies will enhance acceptance, it just takes time and patience.  Kids may develop a dislike for foods they are pressured to eat.  Allow your child to make decisions about what you’ve chosen to serve.

Play restaurant with your family and boost the amount of fruit and veggies they eat! No sneaking, pureeing or other heroic efforts—just plain, simple and straightforward—just the way kids like it.

Do you have a creative or colorful idea for Playing Restaurant? Let us know!

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN

References

Spill MK, Birch LL, Roe, LS, Rolls, BJ.  Eating vegetables first:  the use of portion size to increase vegetable intake in preschool children.  Am J Clin Nutr 2010; 91;  1237-1243.

Ello-Martin JA, Ledikwe JH,  Rolls BJ. The influence of food portion size and energy density on energy intake:  implications for weight management. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;82(suppl):  236S–41S.

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