Transform your son’s or daughter’s taste buds by trying these 6 ways to help your children eat their veggies.
Note from Ann: Numbers one and six, YES! With six kiddos you can bet I have battled a picky eater or two and the “I hate veggies” battle cry more than once!! Don’t give up though, Hilary shares some wonderful advice for kids (or husbands?) that won’t eat their veggies. When mine were small, we lived in a townhouse and didn’t have room for a garden, so I grew cherry tomatoes and green beans in pots on my back porch. Everyday we went out to check on their growth and eat whatever we could find that had ripened. Not all of them like tomatoes and green beans, but now that they are older and we have more space to grow fresh vegetables, they all get involved in planting, weeding and growing. I’m so guilty of not doing number six though, what a humble way to teach your kids, by being vulnerable with them! Time to plan a trip to the grocery store, thanks Hilary!!
By Hilary Bernstein, Contributing Writer
Growing up, I did NOT like to eat most vegetables. I didn’t care for fruit much, either. Raised with a diet of mainly processed food, fresh tastes and textures didn’t appeal to me.
Now that I’m all grown up, I’ve noticed that I really have to try hard to eat a lot of vegetables and fruit each day – trying hard as in I need to remind myself at each meal.
When I became a mom, I knew I didn’t want my children to face the same vegetable battle. I wanted fresh vegetables to be a normal part of our meals so they would grow up without such a nutritious struggle.
So when my firstborn was old enough to start trying solids, I made sure he ate plenty of vegetable purees. The good news was he loved it – and he loved trying all of the different flavors. (Except squash. He HATED squash and still does.)
I had hoped that by introducing fresh vegetables as his first flavors, they would become a sort of comfort food for him. I’ve detailed the whole experience – including my strategy, reasoning and recipes – in my eBook First Bites.
My plan worked. My son is now 8 and one of the only children I know who craves veggies. He could eat them for every meal of the day – and for snacks. His love of vegetables surprises me.
And then there’s my daughter.
My sweet and spunky 6-year-old turns up her nose whenever we add vegetables to her dinner plate. Ever the sweet tooth, she gladly eats fruit but says her favorite vegetable is chocolate cake.
When I introduced her to solids, I didn’t have the time or energy to focus on fresh vegetable purees. We were in the middle of selling our house and moving and life was messy. While I still gave her fresh fruits and vegetables, it was a very different experience than with our son.
Whether she likes it or not, though, she needs to eat vegetables.
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6 Ways to Help Your Children Eat Their Veggies
If you’re dealing with a child who’s a picky eater, there are ways to help him or her eat vegetables. Not all of them may work at your dinner table – but hopefully some of them will and you can help your children enjoy eating fresh, healthy food.
1. Get your child involved.
As soon as your son or daughter is ready to start solid food, you can include him or her in your meal preparation. Take your children with you when you go grocery shopping and have a conversation about what food you’re choosing – and why.
When they’re old enough, give them a choice of which vegetables to buy at the store. Would you like some carrots or green peppers? Or both? Once you get home, give their choice as a snack or prepare it for mealtime. If you serve it soon after shopping, they’ll remember they chose it.
If you have any room for a garden – whether it’s a full raised bed garden in your yard or a container garden on your porch – let your children help you pick out which vegetables to plan. Then, teach them how to care for your plants. Show them how to plant seeds, water, weed and then harvest the fruit (and veggies) of their labor. Then, eat that amazing fresh produce together. Talk about how much better peas and beans and tomatoes taste all warmed by the sun, right off the vine.
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Also, involve your children with food preparation. Teach them how to carefully peel and dice produce. Show them how to rinse off fruit and vegetables. Put them in charge of preparing the vegetable aspect of the meal so they’ll be more willing to eat what they proudly made.
2. Offer a variety of vegetables at mealtime.
Instead of serving just one vegetable, serve two or three. That way, there should be something to interest everyone at your dinner table. Sometimes I like to serve my children’s favorite vegetables along with something they haven’t tried before – that way, if they don’t like the new veggie, they still have their old favorite.
Growing up, I lived with the rule that I had to try everything at dinner time. We use the same rule at our dinner table now – our children may not like it, but they do try at least one bite of everything. On nights when we serve several vegetables, they get a small helping of each kind. Once they’ve tried everything, sometimes they end up asking for second and third helpings.
3. Be willing to get goofy with your food.
Mealtimes don’t have to be boring. If you have a few extra moments in the kitchen, make each child their very own dinner plate masterpiece – turn the food into a work of art like a silly face or a landscape. (Radish flowers with celery stems are super easy to make.)
If you’re short on time, make up names for the vegetables. My daughter wouldn’t touch broccoli on her plate, until one night I told her to eat her trees. She figured out right away what I was talking about, and ate the tops of all her broccoli. Now, broccoli is the one vegetable she’ll gobble down right away.
If you have elementary-aged children, try creating rhymes and poems about the vegetables on your table. Once your children get laughing at their own limericks, they may dig in.
Finally, you could turn eating vegetables into a game. Who can finish their veggies first? Who can come up with the best description of how the vegetable tastes? Try a blindfolded taste test and see if they can tell which vegetable you’re feeding them.
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4. Talk about food.
Children can understand a lot more than adults usually give them credit for. By simply talking over meal choices with your children, they may want to eat vegetables.
When my husband and I talk about how junk food makes you feel after eating it, and then how real food and fresh fruits and veggies make you feel, our children are much more excited to eat food that will help their bodies.
5. Offer fresh vegetables as snacks.
In my house, I’ve learned that if I buy junk food and bring it into our home, my family will eat it. But if I keep it out of the house, we won’t have to deal with the temptation.
As I keep the junk food out, I try to add healthy foods to our fridge and pantry. When my kids get hungry – and do they get hungry! – the only options for their snacks are something healthy or … healthy. They can choose between fresh carrots, an apple, or banana. They may not be crazy about those choices, but they do have a preference. And they do end up with a healthy snack.
6. Try new vegetables as a family.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an adventurous or picky eater – model what it’s like to try new foods.
The next time you’re grocery shopping, pick a vegetable you’ve never served before. Buy some – not a LOT, in case no one prefers it – and bring it home. Research as a family the best ways to cook it, then try it together. If there are multiple ways to serve it, try all of the ways – from cooked to steamed to raw – and see what you prefer. By doing this, you may find a new favorite. Or, you may not. You’ll never know, though, until you try!
By trying these 6 ways to help your children eat their veggies, you just may end up transforming your son’s or daughter’s taste buds in a very healthy way!
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How have you helped your children eat their veggies?