Sam Flatman, an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Play, explains why letting children play with their greens might not be such a bad idea.

Do you struggle to get your toddler to eat their greens?  Allowing them to get hands on with their veggies could be the answer.  Current statistics show that only one out of every five children in the UK eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day so it’s best to get them keen on their greens early on.

When meal times roll around, it’s not long before your toddler becomes a sticky mess after smushing their broccoli and sending their brussel sprouts rolling.  That’s natural for all young children as they get to grips with eating different foods but, as they grow up, it’s a habit we try and get them to drop.  New research suggests that maybe we should actually be encouraging our children to squish their bananas and play with their broccoli.

How to Encourage Toddlers to Try Different Foods

A new study has found that toddlers who play with their fruit and vegetables were much more likely to eat them when they turned up on their dinner plate.  The research involved introducing unfamiliar fruits and veg, such as sweet potatoes, broad beans, rhubarb and pomegranates, to a group of toddlers aged between twelve and thirty-six months.  Interestingly, the results showed that toddlers were happy to try a spoonful of 66% of the fruit and vegetables that they had previously played with yet would only eat 49% of the vegetables that they were not familiar with.

Dr Carmel Houston-Price, who led the study, admitted that, “Getting toddlers to try something new is not an easy task.  Most parents will have experienced frustration, and a messy floor, when encouraging their toddler to try different foods.”

Fruit and Veg Games

Dr Houston-Price added that, “Introducing new foods through fun familiarisation activities, such as letting children poke their fingers inside foods, smelling them and drawing pictures of them, increased their willingness to taste them at mealtimes – especially the vegetables!”  Here are three fun activities that could encourage your toddler to eat more of their fruit and vegetables.

Edible fruit paints: Colourful, toddler-friendly and packed full of good stuff; edible fruit paints enable children to lick their sticky fingers as much as they like!  Natural fruit paints are simple to make; just blend together any fruits of the same colour.  Try to use fruits with strong colours, such as blueberries, raspberries and pomegranates.

Vegetable stamps:  Do you remember making potato prints when you were young?  This is a great activity for parents and children to do together.  Grab some unfamiliar root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash and swede, and carve out stars, hearts or flowers.  Pour some coloured paints onto separate plates, setting your toddler up with a painting shirt and a large sheet of paper, before letting them stamp away in delight.  Gripping the vegetables will help children to improve their dexterity and fine motor skills, while printing patterns can boost creativity – and it’s fun!

Pretend cooks: For slightly older toddlers, involving fruits and vegetables in pretend play is an excellent way to explore new foods. You don’t need to have a play kitchen for this one. Providing your child with some plastic bowls and wooden spoons should do the trick. Head out to the local supermarket to stock up on some unusual fruits and vegetables, such as okra, persimmon and taro. Your toddler will love to pretend experiment and pretend cook with these! Hopefully they’ll want to try a spoonful of them afterwards too.

Do you have any other fun ideas for playing with fruits and vegetables?

Author Bio: Sam Flatman is an outdoor learning specialist and an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Play. Sam has been designing playgrounds for the past 10 years and has a passion for outdoor education. Sam believes that outdoor learning is an essential part of child development, which can be integrated into the school curriculum.

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