I came across an interesting tidbit recently off a study in Kansas. But first, some background. To improve nutrition levels in the diets of children in the WIC program — that's the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — more money was allotted for buying fresh fruits and vegetables, and less money was allotted for buying fruit juice. Those changes went into effect for everyone on the food program this year.

While no one is against children drinking fruit juice, nutritionists behind the WIC program were concerned that the high-calorie fruit juices were contributing to childhood obesity, and were being served instead of the fiber-rich whole fruits. This change successfully lowered the amount of fruit juice children between the ages of 2 and 18 were drinking and raised the amount of whole fruits they were eating. That's great progress. 

Unfortunately, this change didn’t translate into children (or adults on the program) eating more vegetables, according to the study. However, there's a fairly easy way to increase vegetable consumption by children, according to Sandy Procter, the assistant professor of human nutrition at the University of Kansas who conducted the study. She said that while the five recommended servings of vegetables and fruit per day shouldn’t be burdensome, if vegetables are left out of lunches, it’s hard to get them all in every day. The solution? She recommends that parents concentrate on increasing vegetables served at lunchtime as a simple way to increase vegetable intake. 

I have to admit that vegetables are often seen more as a side for dinner, rather than a side for lunch — and this is true for my own family as well.

Here are a few thoughts on how to include more vegetables: 

Make it fun for younger children with bento boxes.

Recently we have been experimenting with bento boxes, and I love the concept! It allows my children to try a wide variety of different foods in small servings, is totally adorable and is an easy way to include fruits and vegetables in every lunch. You can see five of our bento box lunches here — all of which include vegetables. 

Make it delicious.

I was intrigued by a television segment I saw about how French schools serve vegetables. The French have no qualms about serving vegetables every day to their children at lunchtime, but they also have no qualms about making it taste as delicious as possible. It even showed school cooks serving deep-fried broccoli and cauliflower to young children! While you certainly don’t have to deep fry vegetables to make them taste good, the point is that eating vegetables can be bland and un-enjoyable, or it can be delicious. Even doing something as simple as serving crudités with a delicious homemade dressing can make all the difference. 

Start them young.

Finally, if you have young children, don’t force vegetables down their throat but do introduce them to a wide variety of delicious and healthy foods. Let them try them, get used to them, and see you enjoy them. You just may be surprised at what they like. 

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Related on MNN: 

Children are still not eating enough vegetables, but here's a solution
We're making progress on getting children to eat more fruit, but not vegetables. Thankfully there is a fairly easy way to change that.