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Fruit fit for a kid; Homemade popsicles and smoothies can be a tasty and fun way for the kids to get their fruits and veggies

For all the lucky parents whose children eagerly pop blueberries in their mouths, plead for seconds of sliced mango and jump up and down at the sight of apricots, this article is not for you.

This is for the rest of us who despite all our efforts just can't seem to get our little ones excited about summer's bountiful fruits.

Sure, they'll eat apples, bananas and raisins.

And yes, you try to set a good example by throwing berries in your cereal and snacking on clementines and pears in front of them.

Sometimes they're even willing to bite into a new fruit, say a nectarine or a blackberry, but within seconds it's hurtling toward the floor with a dramatic splat.

"Blech!" your adorable toddler declares as you wonder whether you're dooming your little cutie pie to a future of cake and cookie-filled obesity.

Don't worry.

Other parents who have faced this struggle have discovered fun ways to introduce all kinds of fruit to their little ones: They make homemade popsicles and smoothies.

Made with fresh fruit, whirred to a puree in a blender or food processor, and mixed with low-fat milk, soy milk or yogurt or even just straight-up, the homemade treats can be a tasty and fun way to get your kids to eat fruit.

They're even easy to make. For frozen fruit bars, just pour the mixtures into popsicle molds -- available at just about every supermarket in the ice cream section -- and freeze.

In most cases, you can use the same mixture for smoothies. (You may need to add more milk and some ice cubes to get the right milk-shaky consistency.)

Dr. Matthew F. Bartels, a pediatrician with Amherst Health Center and associate medical director at Univera Healthcare, said parents shouldn't beat themselves up if their children aren't crazy about fresh produce.

"If they don't like broccoli, it's not the end of the world," he said. "It's not uncommon. It's something I have to deal with -- 'They won't eat their fruit and vegetables.' "

He advises parents to keep trying and also to involve children in the cooking process, from choosing fruit and vegetables at the supermarket, to prepping and cooking.

Bartels said eating fruit, whether fresh, canned or mixed into something, is important for two reasons: first, for its nutritional value. And, he said, "They're also filling. They're filled with water, and that helps people prevent overeating later."

Adults should get about two full cups of fruit and vegetables a day. Toddlers don't need as much, closer to about one to 1 1/2 cups, said Mallary Whipple, a registered dietitian for Wegmans supermarkets.

Smoothies and popsicles made with fresh fruit and healthy additions like low-fat or nonfat yogurt or milk are good ways to get fruit into children, said Whipple."

Pureeing fresh fruit, she said, rather than using juice is especially healthful.

"We want to limit juice to 100 percent fruit juice and only half a cup a day," Whipple said. (Juice is high in natural sugar.)

The key to keeping smoothies and popsicles a good snack -- and not a dessert -- is to make sure you're not adding unhealthful ingredients, like sugar or ice cream.

Using nonfat or low-fat yogurt is a great nutritious tool, and you don't lose any probiotic benefits by freezing, Whipple said.

Frozen fruit can be more nutritious in smoothies than fresh fruit from the market, she said. "Our food in the supermarket is really, really fresh, but it's been on the shelf a day or two," Whipple said. "Frozen fruit is flash frozen."

She did advise against using frozen fruit in popsicles -- meaning, refreezing it. "Once food is thawed and held above 40 degrees, bacteria can start to grow," she said. So if you're making a mixture for popsicles, she said, stick to fresh fruit.

Whipple pointed out that many parents have tried "Sneaky Chef" methods, making purees of vegetables and fruit that are folded into foods such as meat loaf and cookies to "sneak" vegetables into children's mouths.

"It's a great idea," Whipple said. "As a parent, if you wanted to do that, I would say go for it. We can't deny that if you put cauliflower into mac-and-cheese, they are still getting cauliflower."

Whipple said it's also important to continue offering unadulterated fruits and vegetables at meals to get children into the habit of eating and enjoying them.

As a mom who took great pains to feed my babies a healthful array of organic baby foods and homemade purees, I was chagrined to discover that when they were ready for "real people" food, they had little interest in any fruit or vegetables save apples, bananas, clementines, raisins, carrots and sometimes celery, so long as it was slathered with peanut butter.

They seemed to like crunchy produce but had no interest in anything mushy. If they were willing to try it, they'd often gag and spit it out. Earlier this summer, I offered some fresh mango I was cutting up for myself to my little guys. They both balked, but when I asked my 4-year-old if he'd like to just lick it, he was game. He said he liked it, and he even took the piece of fruit on a fork and licked it for a while.

Bells went off in my head, and I started experimenting. They like the taste of fruit. Just not the texture. First came smoothies: chunks of fresh mango, blended with kid-friendly banana and reduced fat soy milk.

Both my preschooler and my toddler went for it.

Then mango and pineapple, with banana and low-fat vanilla yogurt.

Another hit.

Strawberries, yogurt and some low-fat milk to thin it out? They weren't that into it. But when banana was added, the boys were back on board.

Smoothies made with other berries weren't all that successful.

Popsicles were the next experiment. Bananas once again proved to be a key ingredient in the yummy factor.

Melons of all varieties were a hit just on their own. Scoops of watermelon or honeydew went straight into their mouths.

But I wanted to try berries again. I pureed blueberries from the farmers' market with bananas, vanilla yogurt and a touch of honey, then strained it through a sieve to get rid of the skins -- the culprit "ick" factor.

It worked! The same technique worked for raspberries, too.

"Good," the older one declared, doing his best Henry the VIII, as he devoured the concoction.

It was music to this mommy's ears.


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