An education in fruits and vegetables

posted on Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hesitant to buy new fruits or vegetables for fear they will go to waste?

You’re not alone. Trying new foods is an uncertain experience for many adults and children. Add the pressures of the pocketbook and it’s easy to understand why shoppers stick to foods they know their family members will like.

So how do we get kids to try food outside their comfort zone? Mothers of picky eaters know all too well the challenge of convincing kids to eat their vegetables. “It’s very simple; my daughter does not like new foods,” says one mother. “Her toes curl at the sight of anything from the produce department at the grocery store.

To help parents help their kids, the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Iowa Nutrition Network worked to develop a plan to increase fruit and vegetable consumption – especially for those picky eaters.

They started by building a team of partners from around the state with a knack for the unconventional, including schools, grocery stores and dietitians. Armed with jicama, collard greens, spinach and mango, an army of nutrition educators traveled school to school introducing children to new foods. “The opportunity to taste fruits and vegetables in the fun and supportive environment of the classroom makes healthy eating exciting,” says Christine Hradek, social marketing coordinator at the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Parents began to notice a change. “Since they started tasting so many fruits and vegetables as part of nutrition education at school, they really found their voice when it comes to the foods they enjoy,” says Tracey, mother of two. “They learned that you can’t decide if you like a food until you try it at least once and sometimes several times. I’ll never tell them, “Oh, you won’t like that” again! Now they help me make my grocery list and I know what they ask for will not go to waste.”

Making new food interesting is one tactic in dealing with these young picky eaters, but what about parents and siblings? Success in the classroom inspired the nutrition team to offer this same experience to parents by taking sampling to the aisles of grocery stores. Hy-Vee’s dietitians were game and soon the classroom food-tasting found its way to the produce department.

“Grocery stores provide a unique opportunity to engage parents while they’re shopping with their children,” says Hradek, “and food-tastings offer the chance to try a food before you buy it.”

Hy-vee Seasons

Connecting the messages kids receive at school with the decisions they make at home, Hy-Vee dietitians helped provide information to shoppers. “Many families had not been exposed to some of the fruits or vegetables such as mango or jicama before and did not know how to use it in food preparation. They experienced new flavors and became familiar with our produce picks,” says Katie Jackson, Hy-Vee dietitian.

The program was off and running. “Our family’s meals were lacking in fruits and vegetables because so much would be thrown out,” says one parent. “I now buy produce with confidence and know it will not go to waste. Our whole family is healthier because of it.”

Jackson says the program was fun to follow from a sales standpoint. “We noticed a positive increase in sales for the majority of fruits and vegetables featured in the program. The increase compared to the previous year showed that a simple, healthy food experience promotes positive health behaviors among individuals and families in the community. The most rewarding thing as a dietitian is to see others live a healthier life through positive food changes.”

IDPH began this project with grocery stores in Des Moines and looks forward to bringing the project to additional communities in the future.

For more information about the nutrition education provided by the Iowa Nutrition Network visit or call Christine Hradek at 515-281-7096.