Seasonal Produce: The Fast Track to Healthier Eating

As parents, getting kids to eat healthy foods is always at the top of our list of parental challenges. One of my key ingredients to getting my kid to eat healthier foods is to show by example. I make it routine to try new foods or new food combinations in our house by reconnecting our meals to the seasonal pattern of produce availability. Don’t think I’ve forgotten how busy you moms and dads are – we all have more than enough work, school, and social commitments in our lives these days. With so many commitments, healthy, home-cooked meals can get lost in the shuffle. I’ve found that getting healthier food into the house is much easier when I buy seasonal produce. With the variety of green grocers, farmers markets, and specialty food stores throughout the five boroughs, seasonal produce is more accessible than ever.

But there’s an added benefit too. By shopping at a local farmers market, kids in tow, you expose them to the seasonal cycle of food production and get them excited about what new item can be found every couple of months. For example, here is a list of the seasonal produce that you and your kids can shop for, and eat, in the next two months:

Vegetables: pumpkins, winter squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, and spinach
Fruit: cranberries, oranges, tangerines, pears, pomegranates and persimmons

Vegetables: sweet potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, and cauliflower
Fruit: pears, oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, papayas, and pomegranates

If you have picky eaters at home, you may be somewhat skeptical. Try this – set aside 2 Saturdays or Sundays a month to shop with your kids at a local farmers market or green grocer, paying special attention to seasonal produce. When you come across a fruit or vegetable that you don’t typically eat (e.g., persimmons), make it a point to buy at least one as your week’s new food item. If you have older kids, when you get home, have your child research the food on the Internet. Both of you can learn more about where it’s grown, how it tastes, and how to prepare it. For example, pomegranates have been cultivated since ancient times and have a long, rich food history. The togetherness factor, coupled with the novelty of the food, should spark some interest from your child.

For picky eaters, keep these tips in mind. Pair new foods with foods your child loves so you aren’t overloading them with too many novelty foods. Continue eating the new food item yourself to be a positive role model, and slowly incorporate that food into your everyday diet. Prepare the food on a consistent basis so that your child has up to 10 exposures to a new food; it takes time for kids to develop a food preference. I’ve made this a game with my 9-year-old daughter, telling her that she should try a new food at least 10 times before deciding whether or not she likes it. I’ve also gotten a lot of mileage out of reminding her that she has a certain number of tries left for her taste test to be completed. She usually plays along, especially if it’s a food that she sees everywhere in the markets because it’s in season!

Here are three of my favorite simple, seasonal produce items to try (or try again) with your kids.

Butternut squash:
Health Benefits: fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, folate, carotenoids, beta-carotene (vitamin A) vitamin C, antioxidant
Fun Factor: The odd bell shape, its sisterhood to the mighty pumpkin, and its burnt orange color
Cooking Ideas: roasted with a sprinkling of brown sugar, cut into chunks and mixed into mac n’ cheese, mashed like sweet potatoes

Brussels sprouts:
Health Benefits: fiber, DNA protection, antioxidant, vitamins C, E, A, and K, omega-3 fatty acids, folate
Fun Factor: kids like the layers of the tiny cabbages, tastes and looks like no other food
Cooking Ideas: halve and roast with extra virgin olive oil, add to a stir fry with tofu and soy sauce

Health Benefits: antioxidants (flavonoids), vitamins A, C, and E, folic acid
Fun Factor: it’s ruby red, messy, and each seed is housed in its own interlocking compartment – what more can I say?
Cooking Ideas: de-seed and juice pomegranates and add to gelatin for a kid-friendly jiggly treat, pomegranate smoothies

Let seasonality help your cause to get your kids to eat healthier foods. Remind them of their connection to their food source and the benefits of investigating what the local farm stand has to offer.

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