Vegetables…love ’em or hate ’em? Do your kids eat them? I have two boys ages 12 and 15. I am happy to say they both like and will eat almost any vegetable with the exception of my youngest, who will only eat mushrooms if they are in his favorite mushroom soup or sautéed “fancy” in butter (which makes NO sense). They also, like most kids, like soda, French fries, chips and all things chocolate. How to get kids to eat veggies? Keep reading.
We do not fight about food choices and I am not militant about their meals but it has been a learning curve for all of us and it has not always been easy. But currently, as an example, both boys will say “ooohh are those roasted Brussels sprouts?….yum!” and reach into the pan before I can get them on their plate. I am sharing this to make the point that it is doable. YOU can teach your kids to eat (and even enjoy) vegetables and healthy food.
Easy? No, not always. Consistent effort? Yes! Worth it? Absolutely!
We ALL should be eating more vegetables than we currently do! Current recommendations are to include 9-11 servings of fruit and vegetables in your daily diet. Serving sizes and amounts vary by age groups. For more specifics on this you can visit http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables-amount.html. My easier version of this recommendation is to make half of your meal vegetables/fruit and vary the choices and colors throughout the week.
Why vegetables? They are powerhouses of nutrients, phytochemicals, vitamins and antioxidants that are essential for healthy growth and development. They boost our immune system to help us fight off illness and disease and even some types of cancer. They stabilize blood sugar and weight. They help maintain energy levels for activity and learning. Or a simplified answer for young kids, “they help you grow big and strong”!
So, if they do all these good things, why doesn’t everyone eat them? I think the answer is multifactorial. I have heard a variety of excuses: “I don’t like them, I don’t know how to prepare them, they are too expensive, my kids /husband won’t eat them, they are not convenient and I am too busy, not filling enough, too green, look weird, fries are better, etc….”.
So here are some of my recommendations to get your kids to happily eat more vegetables and make better food choices.
- First, and probably the most important step, is to lead by example. Your kids are not going to choose asparagus if you are having fries!
- Be consistent and don’t give up. Children are growing and changing daily and so are their palates and preferences. Continue to serve vegetables, even the ones previously refused. Try cooking them differently. Roasted broccoli tastes completely different than raw or steamed. (As an aside….my son announced he “did not like asparagus”, despite the fact that he had been eating it just fine for a few years. I continued to serve it and much to his displeasure he was required to have at least 3 bites. Then I served roasted asparagus with balsamic vinegar and he announced “well, I like THIS asparagus”. Now he is back to eating it however it is served without coercion or complaint.)
- Use all of your resources. Ask friends and family for recipes. Look on the internet for recipes or how to videos. Most all vegetables can be eaten raw, roasted, stir fried, sautéed, or steamed. Many can be added to existing recipes or soups without changing taste too much.
- Use herbs, seasonings and sauces. Be adventurous. There are no rules when it comes to cooking.
- Let your kids help you prepare a meal. They will be more likely to eat what they helped to make.
- Don’t bribe them with sweets. Food should never be used as a reward.
- Have a vegetable competition. Who in the family at the end of the day had the most fruits and vegetables? Make a chart for the week and post it on the fridge. Perhaps the week’s winner gets to choose a fun weekend family outing or just gets bragging rights.
- For veggie-phobes and hold outs you may need to transition them slowly or sneak vegetables into recipes (soups and smoothies). There are cookbooks and websites that have recipes with intentional hidden vegetables for this purpose.
- When you say NO to junk food let your child know why. Be specific. Most kids depending on their age can understand. Example, “No, because I love you and I want you to be strong and healthy and feel good”.
- For young children, use vegetables to help them create food art on their plate and then challenge them to eat it.
- Toddlers are picky! It is part of a normal developmental stage. They are developing independence and practice this with the word NO! They are more interested in exploring their world than eating. So despite their rapid growth their appetite decreases and that is okay. What not to do at this stage is worry that they are not eating enough and give them anything they will eat even if it is sweet. This sets up cravings for sugary, salty, fatty foods in the future.
- Fruit…I am not going to say much about fruits here because they are less of an issue with kids. However, I will say that fruit juice is a sugary beverage and should be very limited. 100% Fruit juice with no added sugar seems virtuous and healthy but it can be a slippery slope when it is the beverage of choice. Fruit juice lacks the fiber and some nutrients of whole fruit. Also it often has added sugar. Whole fruit is a much better choice.
- Take your kids to the farmers market. Talk to the people that grow the food. Let them discover and pick out a “new” vegetable. Then take it home and together figure out how to cook it. It’s an inexpensive, educational and fun field trip.
- Let them make choices within your guidelines. For example when one of my boys want a giant coke at lunch then I may say “sure…do you want that to be your treat for the day or were you planning on having candy later at the movie? That gets them thinking about soda as a dessert (because it is) and lets them know both are not okay and let’s them make their own choice.
- The more processed foods your child eats such as (fries, chips, fruit roll ups, etc..) the more that is what they will crave. That is how the palate and brain work. Fast foods and packaged foods that are full of salt, fat and sugar are addictive. Weaning your kids off this stuff is not impossible but requires commitment on your part to make it happen.
- You don’t have to be the food police or get into unpleasant power struggles. Just work more veggies in their daily diet slowly and let that push the other stuff out. It will take planning and consistency on your part.
I am not delusional. I recognize that if I slipped into a coma tomorrow and my boys had to feed themselves it would be Lucky Charms, pizza and ice cream for a while. However, I could rest in peace (in my coma) knowing that they knew what to eat, mostly how to prepare it, and why it was a better choice for their body and mind. And if I passed they would at least have a veggie tray in my honor for loved ones to enjoy as they mourned over my dead cold body. Perhaps?!?