“Eat your veggies. They’re good for you.”
“You won’t get dessert if you don’t eat your vegetables.”
“You have to eat something green.”
How many times did we hear those orders and threats growing up? Our parents meant well, but maybe their delivery didn’t help make vegetables a more appealing part of meals. Kids are funny little creatures, but they are not fools. And they are also not born fussy or picky eaters. They are willing to eat a variety of foods and they want just one thing. Kids get hungry and want to eat something delicious. We can all agree with that sentiment, right?
Incorporating more vegetables into your children’s diets doesn’t have to be the culinary equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. Nor does it have to mean bland frozen vegetables. There are fun, and maybe a few sneaky ways (because let’s face it - we are parents) to help children eat more veggies and enjoy their selections by learning how to make healthy food taste good.
Empower Your Kids
Including them in the process as an important member of the veggie-choosing team is essential. Ask them to help make meal plans and grocery lists. You might not necessarily want French fries, but if they are eaten side by side with some kale you have to call that a win.
You might think the grocery store is the wrong place to have your kids tag along, especially when they are loaded with floor-to-ceiling aisles of goodies like sweet cereal, candy, and chips. Avoid those center aisles and steer them along the store’s perimeter where the fresh produce exists in colorful heaps or orderly rows. It is easy to make veggie selections a game when you ask your child to choose vegetables in three different colors- maybe red peppers, yellow squash, and green spinach.
Small children wielding sharp kitchen knives might make you want to dismiss the notion of having them assist with meal preparation, but there are ways to include them to help them feel invested in this whole veggie-eating effort. No knives are needed when the kids wash and tear lettuce or snap green beans in half. Learning to cook and provide healthy meals is an important skill so kids are never too young to be in the kitchen helping mom and dad.
Do you want to get really creative and reap the benefits of this kid-friendly vegetable journey? Planting a garden- from rows of tomato plants to raised beds of squash to a windowsill herb garden- kids are able to mightily contribute to this family project. It’s educational, it’s good outdoor work, and it’s quality time to spend together as a family. And when a child eats a fresh tomato they plucked from the vine that day- it is nothing short of miraculous.
Getting children (and the grownups in your house) to eat a more varied, colorful array of vegetables need not be an arduous task. A few tips to consider:
Be consistent. Make sure you offer a couple of choices with each meal.
Be patient. Your child may really not like beets or radishes. Trying is good. Liking is best. But dislike is not a disaster.
Be creative. Slice peppers into “worms” and shred lettuce into “grass.” Make smiley faces with cut-up veggies. Who can resist a red pepper smile and a mushroom nose?
Be sneaky. Ok, you may have to succumb to this bit of subterfuge. If your veggie attempts fail there are still ways to include veggies in your kids’ meals. Add some grated squash to spaghetti sauce or include some spinach as a pizza topping. And sometimes you just have to resort to a sprinkle of cheese.
As adults, we know the benefits of vegetables and that we need plenty of vegetables. But, as adults, we know it's difficult to maintain a healthy diet and be good healthy eating examples for our kids. We juggle jobs, homes, activities, and meal preparation which can make healthy choices more of a task than a treat. In a way, it is no different for kids. They have busy days of school and sports and sometimes a bunch of French fries just sounds perfect. But if we lead by example and offer a variety of vegetable choices our kids might surprise us one day when they say, “please pass the kale.”