I often have parents who want my sessions to focus on helping kids learn to eat healthier foods, especially vegetables. On the journey to developing the oral motor skills necessary for biting, chewing and swallowing a variety of vegetables, simply interacting with these foods via food crafts and food play develops a positive relationships with Brussels sprouts, carrots and more. Holidays offer ideal opportunities for food play, especially Valentine’s Day.
From classroom parties to neighborhood get-togethers, Valentine’s Day is traditionally a sugar-fest of red, pink and white candy, frosting and sprinkles. Why not turn it into a Valentine Vegetable Party instead? SLPs in schools, private practice or healthcare settings all enjoy the chance to use this event to offer with patients, clients, students, teachers or parents tips.
Incorporate the spectrum of red hues by using purple carrots, white or red radishes, red potatoes, red or purple bell peppers, rhubarb, radicchio or purple beets in games, crafts and even decorations? Don’t forget cauliflower, jicama or turnips for a nice mix of white. Use them in a variety of ways to get kids interacting with red-hued veggies. Throw in some green vegetables, too. No one said that green wasn’t allowed on Valentine’s Day!
Ask kids to decorate the party space with veggie-laced floral arrangements in clear cylindrical vases. Encourage kids to line a simple glass vase with long veggies, such as purple carrot spears, or fill it halfway with rhubarb hunks and cranberries before adding water and flowers. Mix in a few leaves of kale, radicchio or red cabbage to add that final touch of veggie love. Sometimes, learning to love vegetables starts with getting comfortable picking them up, handling them and creating something beautiful.
Up to a few weeks before the party, begin sparking interest in red vegetables by helping kids make beet paint. Peeling and lightly steaming the beets beforehand speeds the process. Encourage the kids to chop the beets then use a blender or food processor to grind into a pulp. Now add three parts water to one part beet pulp. Let the kids pour the mixture over a fine mesh colander or cheese cloth and drain into a bowl. Add a bit of cornstarch for thicker paint.
Remember, gradual exposure to new vegetables over time helps build familiarity and now the kids are familiar with beets.
For the last step, use celery stalks with leaves intact as paint brushes. Chop off the base of the stalk to create a beautiful red rose stamp perfect for Valentine’s Day! Or use raw beet slices carved into an X or O, and encourage the kids to lick their beet and stamp. The moisture from licking produces just the right amount of beet juice for stamping.
- Veggie Chairs. Similar to musical chairs, but with focus on the vegetable. Place chairs in a circle so a few more chairs remain than children. Now, place a vegetable on almost every seat. Extra seats have paper hearts. Children march around the circle and when the music stops, they must pick up a vegetable in order to sit down. Only kids seated with a vegetable in hand tries again.
- Pepper, Pepper, Radish! Similar to duck, duck goose, but one child circles the group, patting each on the head and saying “pepper.” When the child says “radish!” the seated child must grab a radish from the center of the circle and try to race the other child to the empty spot in the circle. Use unfamiliar veggies, because running while holding the veggie makes new vegetable encounters fun from the start
- Which Vegetable Is This? In the center of a round table, pile up all kinds of raw vegetables, from kale to potatoes to red bell peppers. Now, give kids 30 seconds to study the pile. Encourage picking up veggies and examining them! Once time’s up, blindfold one child volunteer. Another child puts a veggie in the volunteer’s hands and asks, “Which vegetable is this?” Make it more challenging by dividing the class into teams and putting one Valentine sticker (hearts, cupids, etc.) on each vegetable. If the blindfolded child also guesses the sticker, the team gets a bonus point! Winning team gets to take home the veggies.
Veggie Valentine snacks
- Vegitoes: Use heart-shaped cookie cutters or FunBite’s heart cutters on thinly sliced parsnips, radishes, purple carrots and jicama, as demonstrated in this video. The children mix a variety of spices in a small mason jar, add the heart-shaped veggie slices to the mix, and shake! The spice mix found here gives the veggies a similar taste to popular snack chips. Creating familiar tastes with spices helps children try new foods, even if that first taste simply involves licking a familiar spice off a slice of parsnip.
- Red Pepper Bowls: Help the kids slice off red pepper tops and carefully hollow out the middle to create a bowl. Kids trace a heart shape on the side of the pepper and then adults cut out the heart. Fill the “bowls” with a variety of raw vegetable sticks. Save one pepper for the dip. Make an easy, popular dip by adding a few strawberries to cream cheese. Many kids know this taste from their bagels, so toss in a few bagel chips for dipping, too. Pairing a crunchy preferred food like bagel chips with a crunchy new food like raw veggies also builds familiarity—this time through the sensory experience of the crunch.
- Smoothie Bar: Kids love to concoct their own smoothie recipes. Create a smoothie bar of purple and red fruits, crushed ice—or use frozen fruit—plus a touch of green. Popular combinations are frozen cherries, blueberries, raspberries or strawberries plus milk or yogurt. For the veggie twist, present three small bowls of spinach, kale and frozen peas. As the child watches the smoothie blend, encourage them to add one or more veggies to the mix—even if they drop in just one leaf of spinach. The smoothie’s dark purple color will make the green magically disappear as it blends. Whether they grab a handful of kale or one tiny pea, it doesn’t matter. The joy of learning about vegetables, even with the most hesitant eaters, is discovering all the sensory properties and making it fun being a food explorer.
What ideas do you have for hesitant eaters on Valentine’s Day? Please share in the comments below.
Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children, birth to teens, who have difficulty eating. She is the co-author of “Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook—A Stage by Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating,” the author of “Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids,” and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD: “Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs That Celebrate the Joy of Food!” Melanie@mymunchbug.com