Eat Your VEGGIES!
It's the old battle royale. Kids versus parents: Getting your kids to eat their VEGGIES! First, know that you are NOT alone. Parents all over the world have this same exact struggle. You might think you are alone, but alas, you are not. I joke, but only to make light of the situation, because otherwise you might cry at the dinner table and we don't want the kiddos seeing that. They may think they've won this here battle and well, we can't have that. To help turn your veggie loather into a veggie lover, here are a few tips and tricks, otherwise known as probably what you've already heard before, but may just be what you need to hear again.
Set an example. I know this probably goes without saying, but ‘tis true. You are the ultimate role model for all things, food included. If you aren’t eating veggies your kids aren’t eating veggies. I know many people didn’t grow up eating veggies and that’s the said excuse. But I will be 100% honest with you when I tell you that kids do form their eating habits at an early age. It’s best to get them started at an early age as this will set the tone for their adult eating habits. Even if veggies weren’t your thing, aren’t your thing, you best start making them your thing. Eat veggies, not only for your kid’s health, but also YOUR health.
Make food fun. I’m not sure when cooking turned into being such a dreaded chore. Oh yeah I do. That moment when everyone at the table complains about the food on the table night after night. Oh yeah, that’s why. We’ve lost the fun when it comes to food. Kids are a great example of tapping into our inner child-like spirit of make believe and games. They love to pretend. So use that “pretending” with their veggies. Maybe they are a dinosaur that needs to eat miniature trees in order to outrun Tyrannosaurus Rex. Yes, I know you just got through with a long day at the office and the last thing you want to do is entertain your kids in this manner. But guess what? Odds are they might buy into this game and try to eat some miniature trees. You never know until you try. I am not saying it will work each and every time, but start thinking like a child and you might be surprised what other creative ways you can come up. Keep reading if you’re still not sure.
Get them involved. This goes along with why cooking became a dreaded chore, dinner always seems for some reason to fall on one person in the house. Cooking dinner should be conquered with teamwork, a division of duties if you will. Get EVERYONE involved – kids take ownership in things they prepare and are more likely to want to eat food that they prepare. Yes I know it will be messier to have the kids involved in the preparation, but remember what I said at the beginning? This is a TEAM effort. That means they too are involved in the clean-up process. And taking this a step further, have the kids involved in deciding what foods are eaten during the week. Allow them to have choices – and no I am not saying mac-n-cheese with chicken nuggets every night, but I do believe they may have some insight into what veggies they do like and what veggies they might be willing to try (yes, they need to help with this also). Additionally as kids get older have them start finding recipes online that might make them more willing to try a veggie. One other area of involvement, if you’re into this kind of thing, is to have them grow their own food, yes that’s right, plant a garden. What better way for them to see the food from the ground to the table and how much work it takes to grow what they’re eating. That’s a whole other level of involvement, but if you are into gardening, definitely get the kids involved. And if you don’t have a green thumb (like me) take the kids to farmer’s market and/or u-pick fields where they can see how food grows. Involve them in their food selection, growth, and preparation; it will change their outlook on food.
Enforce a “one-bite rule” – And if you don’t agree with me on this point, see my next point below as to why this is a “rule” versus the next point (and if you’re confused just read on, you’ll see what I’m talking about). Research does consistently show that when children initially reject a food they must be exposed to it at least 8-10 times in order for them to ultimately accept that previously rejected food. Take a second to breathe all of that in. 8-10 exposures? That’s a lot of rejection. Just another reason why food isn’t fun anymore. I really am trying to make light of this a little bit and you should as well. Your job as a parent is to expose children to the food. Children’s jobs are to eat the food you prepare and provide. It doesn’t mean they will always like what you prepare (or they even start helping to prepare) but the fact remains you have to keep exposing the kids to these foods in order for them to start possibly accepting them (who knows what day that will be, but keep the faith and keep on serving veggies!) And this all starts with just one bite. That’s right. Encourage your children to at least take one bite (an established rule before sitting at the table, not to be an argument when at the table to disrupt discord while at the table). One bite, that’s it. No ewww, yuck, or gross, just one bite. They may like it and they may not, but at least they’ve tried it to find out whether they do or not. And that leads me to my next tip:
Don’t force them to finish. I know it’s tempting to make them have to finish everything on their plate. Maybe that’s the way you were raised or maybe you’re using it as a form of punishment because you were the only one that prepared dinner and now no one is even eating what you made. No, that’s not the reason, surely not. We want a positive eating experience not a negative one (and yes, I know they may have ruined your dining experience by making it such a difficult chore to have to eat their veggies) but keep in mind this is also part of a control/independence situation where they do ultimately get to control what they are eating. You cannot force them to eat their veggies as much as you would like to. It creates a not so great eating experience and can end up reinforcing picky eating habits that you’d rather just went away. So, go back to my previous point and stick with the one-bite rule. It’s much easier for you to have a better dining experience for all at the table. Promise.
Explain the importance of veggies. Once again, obvi, but often forgotten. Instead of “eat your veggies, because I said so”, bring light to the reason why those veggies are so important to eat. Create a conversation as to what goodness/benefit/function they are getting from each and every vegetable. I think every kid wants to perform better at their sport, grow bigger and stronger, and/or “be like Mike” and that all starts with eating their veggies aka those vitamins and minerals are so important for us to function at our peak performance. Which leads me to my next point.
Offer a variety of colors. Kids do love colors, so this is helpful when it comes to eating veggies. You can expose them to more colors by adding different vegetables to their plates. Just keep in mind that while adults like their flavors to mingle, kids do not. Make sure to keep their vegetables separate. Get creative in the way you offer the veggies. Even though kids may like their vegetables separate, you can create patterns with their veggies and/or even create shapes with their food. Always keep it light and fun, this helps the overall atmosphere at the table too. Yes, make food fun again!
Flavor, flavor, flavor. Ever had a not so great experience with food? Unripe papaya would be the first that comes to mind for me. I love papaya, but if you cut one open too soon and it’s under ripe, you won’t catch me eating it anytime soon. So, consider this when offering veggies to kids. They have to have flavor (once again, obvi I know, but sometimes is lost in the struggle to get our kids to eat veggies). No bland veggies. Please and thank you. I think one of the ways to think about this is to offer one vegetable in a variety of ways to allow kids to choose which way they may have enjoyed it the best. Reiterate that there is no ew, yuck, or gross at the table, but if there was a thumbs down, maybe try offering that same vegetable prepared in a different manner. That’s right, just because they didn’t like it one way doesn’t mean they won’t like it another way. It really truly is all about flavor (and keep in mind kids’ taste buds grow as they grow. This is an important point to remember…so, yes, one day they will like veggies. We don’t know when that day will be, but one day they will!)
Stick with it! Consistency really is the key. Some children are more difficult than others and will require more effort and patience (yes, you know which children they are, just don’t let them know which ones they are). Kids are developing their eating habits at a young age, so it’s important to know that these habits do stick with them through adulthood. Whatever you do, don’t throw in the towel.
Here are just a few more ideas of ways to get kids to eat veggies. And as I said earlier, I'm not here to perform miracles, (I wish) these are simply some ways to help have kids exposed to veggies. There might be a way you hadn't though about previously that will inspire you this week.
Kids LOVE to dip their food. What better way to expose kids to veggies than with different dips?
Hummus, tzatziki, guacamole, salsa, ranch dressing (made with yogurt) - there are more dips than this, but these are a few examples to get you started!
Veggie “Fries” – Let’s be honest, kids love fries. Why not turn zucchini into a fry? (and I’m not talking fry it like a real fry, I’m talking roast it with a panko bread to make it taste fried, but not be fried. It works, I’ve done it. Really any veggie can be turned into a “fry” – butternut squash, green beans – it’s all about the coating and the high heat.
I’m not about tricking kids and putting veggies in foods that they don’t think are there. I want the kids to be exposed to the veggies, but there are ways to expose kids to veggies in foods that they are familiar with: broccoli in their mac-n-cheese; spinach in their quesadilla; kale in a quinoa patty; carrots in their spaghetti sauce. The kids may pick them out (my nephew surely does) but at least the exposure is there and no trickery has gone on.
Try spiralizing different veggies – beets, sweet potato, zucchini – sometimes kids like noodles. And yes, they don’t taste like pasta, but kids might like slurping their “noodles” up.
These are just a few tips and tricks to try with the kiddos (or adults for that matter - adults you know who you are). My final parting thoughts: Keep food fun. Stay consistent. Keep offering those veggies. And whatever you do, delete this page from your search history - we can't have the kids knowing we were talking about them.