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A little food for thought about how to get kids to eat healthier

Examples: Let them play with their food - and eat together as a family

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) Childhood obesity is on the rise in Deschutes County. So as a parent or guardian, how can you get your children excited about trying new fruits and vegetables?

Students from Cascades Academy recently had the chance to prepare and try some new foods at the Cascade Culinary Institute.

"It was beets, I think,” said Wyatt Wright, a 10th-grader at Cascades Academy.  “They were exactly like tomatoes. This one looked like a tomato, tasted like a tomato, but it was kind of sweet. I've just never had a beet like that before, and it was surprising. I learned a new food I like."

Makenna Fredrickson, another Cascades 10th-grader, said, "I thought the cheese was super-good -- which was surprising, because I don't really like cheese. The apples were my favorite."

Eating healthy can be challenging for adults, even more so for children.

According to St. Charles Bend, eighth-graders have become progressively more overweight over the last five years.

Even though 11th-graders have not, their physical activity has dropped considerably.

"Poor choices are the No. 1 cause of (being) obese or overweight," said Mia Neeb, a pediatric dietitian. “Obesity and (being) overweight can be associated with heart disease, diabetes and even cancer." 

NewsChannel 21 asked Neeb for some ways parents or guardians could get their children to be more excited or even want to try new vegetables.

"The key is really exposing your kid to lots of different vegetables," Neeb replied. "The research actually shows that it takes eight to 15 times for a kid to see a food before they like and accept it. And often times, after three or four times we write it off and we say, 'Forget it, there's no way that he or she is going to eat it.'"

Other ways Neeb says you can encourage your children is to let them play with their food.

"Most of the research shows that preschoolers who are playing with these foods, when they are given a choice of two new foods, they'll choose the food that they've seen before -- even if they were just using it to play with,” Neeb said.

She said you should also let your children help out in the kitchen. When you do this, she says, children are more likely to try new food

Thor Erickson, a chef instructor at Cascade Culinary Institute, agrees.

"When young people are able to prepare food, they take an ownership of it, and it's not just in a box or in a package," he says. "They took part in procuring the ingredients and preparing them, tasting them along the way, and then tasting them together -- and that light bulb goes off."

Neeb had some other tips to get children to try new foods.

She said to take your kids to the grocery store or farmers market and let them pick out a vegetable to try.

Try preparing them in different ways, like raw, steamed or sautéed, and then have a taste test.

Plant a small garden and try growing one or two things with them. But the most important habit, Neeb believes, is to have meals as a family.

"When kids eat with their families three to five times a week, they have better performance at school," she said. "They tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, less fat and saturated fat, less fried foods, less sugar. So I think family meals are critical for teaching kids' healthy habits that are going to last a lifetime."

Which meal you have as a family and where you eat it is not important. It's just the time you spend together, Neeb said.

According to St Charles Bend, the rate of obesity is higher with children who have food insecurity.

Neeb says if your budget does not allow for the cost of fresh organic fruits and vegetables, frozen is okay.

She also suggests you ask your health care provider for a list of community resources that can help with the cost of food.

One such resource is NeighborImpact, a 21 Cares for kids partner.

Central Oregon / News

Katie Zuniga

Katie Zuniga is a weather anchor for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Katie here.

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