Heading into the cold and flu season, one of the best ways to protect your family’s health is with the food you consume, including fruits and vegetables.

Not only are fruits and vegetables full of vitamins and antioxidants, but they also can boost the immune system, which is especially important as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

A new study from the United Kingdom also shows that higher fruit and vegetable intake is strongly linked to better mental health in kids, including improving their overall mood.

But let’s face it. Getting kids, especially young kids, to eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables isn’t always easy.

“They’re supposed to eat five servings of fruits and veggies that are the size of their fist at any particular age,” says pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw.

Luckily, there are several ways that parents and caregivers can encourage kids to eat more of these important healthy foods.

  • Have fruits and veggies on hand, in plain sight, rather than buried in the refrigerator.
  • Let your children choose some fruits and veggies at the grocery store.
  • Allow your children to help you prepare melas that include fruits and veggies or arrange them on their plate.
  • Make fruits and veggies fun by whipping up smoothies and freezing them in frozen dessert trays.
  • Have a dipping party and let your children dip their veggies in different condiments, such as salad dressings, peanut butter and hummus.
  • Consider using a rewards chart, giving your child a sticker for each serving of fruits and veggies they eat daily.

Getting a picky eater or a kid who loves processed foods and carbohydrates to embrace healthy eating isn’t likely to happen overnight, so be patient, advises Dr. Bradshaw. She knows firsthand about how tricky it can be.

“My child used to stick carrots in her tights at the table to avoid eating them. I noticed she looked a little funny, and after a pat down, I discovered her secret stash of carrots,” recalls Dr. Bradshaw. “Now, as a young adult, she willingly eats carrots, but she was not a fan of fruits and vegetables at an early age.

Don’t give up, she advises parents. Some children need to try a new food up to 10 times before they accept it, and many more times before they decide to like it.

“You have to be very patient when you’re trying to introduce new fruits and veggies that may not be desirable to your toddler. The more you show a toddler the fruits and veggies you want them to eat, the more likely they are to accept them.”

Dr. Bradshaw also advises parents against bargaining or bribing kids to eat nutritious foods. A better strategy is to give kids some control while limiting the unhealthy food options available at home.

It’s also important not to push so hard that your toddler will push back and refuse, she adds.

“That will just make the process of accepting the foods a lot harder and a lot more frustrating for parents. So just show them the food on their plate that you would like them to eat and someday it will happen.”