“I don’t like that” screams your child when you put the tiny tree shaped vegetable in front of her on the plate. Sometimes trying to get my children to eat a well-balanced diet to include veggies is a chore in itself. My children range from teenager to toddler and I feel like I have learned a lot about getting my children to eat vegetables between my first and youngest child. I want to share the knowledge I have gained to other parents who may be struggling as well. So here are some tips to help out my fellow parents.
First off, what does your diet look like? You are most likely your child’s wonder woman or Superman. They want to be just like you and copy everything you are doing. Children learn from what others are doing and through even your experiences. If you make a conscious effort to incorporate a variety of veggies into your diet on a daily basis, this will most likely pique their interest and the next thing you know they will be asking to eat like mommy or daddy.
Next, what if they have tried veggies multiple times, but they just spit it out? Try not to argue or make a huge deal out of it, but try to offer the veggie another day. You could even try a totally different veggie that day. Unfortunately, some veggies can be an acquired taste which could take many trial and errors before they actually like it. I have read it takes around 10 times of trying some vegetables before a child actually likes it. I can also say from experience, this has been tried and true on many occasions for my children. My teenager has acquired a taste for veggies he would not eat a couple of years ago. Also, keep in mind that your tastes buds will change all throughout your lifetime. A huge tip that I cannot stress over enough is to please don’t force your child to eat them or you may turn veggies into a negative thing. Instead, just offer the veggie at each meal and keep trying different kinds. If they try it, praise them and encourage them to keep trying new things. Another tip, try not to bribe your child with a treat such as chocolate or ice cream if they eat their vegetables. If your goal is to teach healthy eating habits, then bribing chocolate for green beans will not provide your child with the correct reasons to choose vegetables.
My kids always like to have fun. Then again, I also prefer to have fun, so why not make those vegetables as fun as possible. I have been known to make a smorgasbord of veggies in the shape of happy faces on my children’s plates. Green beans make a great mouth! I will even joke about which body part they are eating, such as, “oh my goodness, why are you eating their nose?” It makes it light-hearted fun along with teaching healthy habits. You can even slide in some facts about how healthy veggies are between laughing and giggling about eating corn teeth or the carrot eye of Mr. Veggie head. Another thing I like to do is break out in a song about veggies. It’s normally a made-up tune, but it keeps it fun while making the kids enjoy taste testing these healthy foods. I want to add that I have a terrible voice, but my kids don’t mind that (yet.) Well, the teenager asks me to stop singing, but I think he actually means, sings louder mom!
Another tip I do is to buy some brightly colored containers to store vegetables. I like to go by what’s the “in” or favorite colors for my children at the time. I have had all neon green, a rainbow of colors to all dark colors. I have even been known to go as far as decorating the containers with the favorite things my kids like. I have drawn animals, flowers, cars, trucks and even once a shoe just to make the containers the most appealing thing in the fridge. By keeping a stash of veggies on hand in some fun ways, I have found it makes the choice more fun for snack time. You can ask your children if they want to eat from the flower covered pink container or the blue truck container. The nice thing is that if the kids stop using specific colors, I am not ashamed to bring a neon pink container with unicorn stickers and glitter to work for myself.
If you have a very picky child, you may need to go a step further and bring them shopping with you. You can make a few rounds around the store and show them fresh and canned options. They get to see all the different types of vegetables such as different colors, shapes, and sizes. This should pique their curiosity. I know my oldest liked to be able to pick and choose his own which prompted him to want to try them. I personally let them pick out two different veggies to try each trip. The only stipulation is they have to at least try what they pick. Again, if they try it and don’t like it, let it be and try again another time.
As with many other foods, the way you eat veggies is another thing to think about. I personally love broccoli in any form but raw. I don’t know if it’s the texture, flavor or both, but I just can’t eat it until it’s cooked somehow. Even smothered in cheese is great. It may not be the healthiest option, but it can help kids eat it. Anyways, when I was little, I was forced to eat a raw broccoli tree. I could barely choke down the food and it made me never want to try it again. I went on for many years never trying any other form of it solely because I had tried it raw once and despised it. Later in life, I tried steamed broccoli and loved it. I tried Broccoli soup and it was like heaven. I truly believe if I hadn’t been forced to eat that broccoli early in life, I may have been more option to try it in different forms. The same goes for children and getting them to eat veggies. I would try the easiest form of the veggie such as a raw carrot versus a cooked carrot first only because of convenience. If your child likes the raw form then they can grab it and go any time. You can also mix it up with some dipping sauce like ranch dressing. This will give you the opportunity to try cooked carrots at a later time for another option. As you know, cooked carrot tastes different than a raw or fresh one. So your child may not like a raw carrot but could love it cooked. Just try different ways to prepare it. And don’t give up.
Have you ever thought about a kitchen helper? I’m talking about allowing your child to help you prepare or cook the meal? You have a few different options with your child. My toddler like to put the veggies in the pan or a bowl, help me wash lettuce in the sink or even toss together a salad by adding the lettuce, cheese, tomatoes and such. My older children can help with slicing vegetables or even actual cooking. I give them the option to pick out the vegetable they want for supper and I will help them cook it. This helps them gain a sense of accomplishment and the start of becoming more independent. Your child will be proud that they are helping make food for their family and therefore will want to try it.
So you have tried everything above and your child just will not touch vegetables. As a good parent, you have one final trick up your sleeve.
So, if all else fails, simply hide it in their foods. This will obviously not teach them healthy habits, but it may allow your child to unknowingly gain a taste for peas, green beans, or any other veggie. Your child will get that well-balanced diet you are looking for as well. Some ways you can do this is to puree your vegetables and sneak them in your pasta sauces. You can also add very thinly sliced veggies into all sorts of hot dishes or side dishes. After it goes over well and your child eats a plate full of food or maybe two, you may think about telling them what they ate. Don’t give in just yet. Try and sit back and enjoy that victory. I normally wait after a few meals or even a couple weeks before I tell them. I won’t lie, if I think my kid will stop eating it once they realize what is in it, I simply don’t tell them. Once they realize they have eaten veggies multiple times in various meals and they may realize they liked it and things may go smoother. They will most likely start to realize that they are good and be willing to try more. You might also just keep it your little secret for years to come. It’s for their health right?
On a side note, I would like to talk about the recommended servings of veggies per day for “age groups.” I used to think the food pyramid was the holy grail, but you need to adjust your diet for many things including your age. Here is a general idea of how much your child should intake daily. A toddler should eat about 1 cup of veggies a day while a teenager should have about 2.5 to 3 cups. And remember as an adult, you are not an exemption and should try and eat about 2 to 2.5 cups a day. Happy veggie trying!