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Sampling for the Future: Hy-Vee boasts ways of getting kids to eating healthier and diversify

Children and their parents milled around the east side of Hy-Vee in the ready-to-eat meal area trying out veggies at the Hibachi Asian grille, smoothies and more. As she served up samples of bread, peanut butter and bananas, Hy-Vee’s Cristin Griffey summed up a series of events at the store in succinct fashion: “It’s just to get you to try different foods,” she told one child.

With its new store, like at its old one, Hy-Vee is hosting a myriad of events to get children interested in new, healthy foods, cooking and grocery shopping. For Hy-Vee registered dietitian Megan Groh, a big part of that is getting youngsters involved.

“The number one thing to get kids more interested and eating healthy foods is doing hands-on and application type things,” Groh said.

Kassidy Slowinski scoops out melon at a Kids Day at Hy-Vee event aimed at expposing yongsters to healthy foods. It is one of Hy-Vee’s many events aiming to get kids to try new foods. Jason Schoonover/Austin Living

To teach nutrition, Groh likes to ask the youngsters questions about why a food is good for their bodies. Those questions help get kids thinking about the foods.

Studies show it takes children eight to 18 times of tasking a new food before they begin to like it, and many don’t like something at once. Repeated exposure is key.

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“That’s kind of our goal: Repeated exposure to these healthier things,” she said.

At her station during a Kids Day at Hy-Vee event, Groh worked with kids on “mastering melons” by having youngsters put on food prep gloves and scoop out circles of melon. They then combined them with other foods to make fruit skewers, or kebabs.

“They’re more likely to try something new if they themselves are preparing it,” she said.

Another popular offering at Hy-Vee continues to be Kids in the Kitchen classes, where kids learn about a specific produce — strawberries at one class by making a berry melon bruschetta.

“The goal is to teach them nutrition, teach them kitchen safety and then also develop their culinary skills,” Groh said. “And then enjoy delicious food.”

Kids in the Kitchen events are to be held on a Saturday each month, and they could go to two a month after recent success. Other events, like Kids Day at Hy-Vee, are peppered in at various times of the year.

The One Step Garden also returned in late summer, this year without a garden due to the move to the new Hy-Vee, as a way to promote recipes and plantings, often through games.

Groh and Hy-Vee also offer recommendations for what children can do to get involved in the kitchen by their age:

Scooped melons sit in a bowl during a Kids Day at Hy-Vee event. The melons were part of a fruit kebab for kids to try. Jason Schoonover/Austin Living

3 years old: simple motions like tearing lettuce or washing fruits and vegetables, which can ease preparation.

4 years old: opening packages, greasing pans, pealing hard boiled eggs and mashing potatoes with a fork.

5-6 years old: begin learning to cut soft foods with a blunt knife, setting the table and measuring ingredients.

7-8 years old: rolling and shaking dough and using a whisk to beat ingredients.

9-12 years old: use of more advanced kitchen tools, like a vegetable peeler, knife and ovens; they can also start shredding cheese and veggies.

13-17 years old: teens are ready to independently prepare recipes with multiple ingredients and can take a more active role preparing grocery lists and helping with shopping.