If you’re like most parents, you’ve probably struggled at some point or another with the problem of how to get your kids to eat their vegetables. Unless you have the rare child who embraces his greens and other colorful veggies, you’ve probably had to beg, cajole, bribe, and get creative to coax your child into even trying a few bites of vegetables.
But as daunting and frustrating as the battle over greens (and yellows and oranges and more) may seem, there are solutions to this eternal and timeless battle over the veggies. Here are a few to try:
- Cook with your kids. Have younger children tear lettuce into bite-sized pieces for a salad. Older kids can help chop some veggies for a soup or stir a pot of vegetable stew. When children feel like they have been a part of making the meal, they are more likely to be interested in tasting it.
- Garden together. Growing vegetables together can be a great way to get your kids interested in eating them. You’ll be amazed at how much more interest a child will take in a vegetable if he has invested time and energy into growing it.
- Go shopping together. Something as simple as going to the supermarket together can be an excellent way to develop healthy eating habits in kids. Get your child interested in meal planning and have her help you pick out fresh vegetables and fruits at the supermarket. When kids feel like they have a say in what to have for dinner, they are more likely to be interested in eating the meal.
- Lead with a plate of fruits and veggies. Consider the snacks you are offering your kids when they are hungry, whether it’s after school, between activities, or anytime they something to munch on between meals or while dinner is cooking. If you give them healthy fare when they are the hungriest, they're more likely to snack on it.
- Experiment with different vegetables and recipes. Just because your child doesn’t like broccoli, don’t assume that all greens are out. For instance, he may like the taste of spinach sautéed in garlic, or peas mixed with corn. You can also try going a bit off the beaten path by trying something new and different such as yams, edamame, shitake mushrooms or a Japanese eggplant cooked in an Asian sauce.
- Try and try again. I have a favorite recipe for a lentil and escarole soup that’s basically vegetables and lentils. For years, my son ate a few bites of it here and there, and never really took to it. But it’s one of my favorites so I kept making it. And lo and behold, one day, he began to eat it -- by the bowlfuls. That taught me an important lesson: When your child is exposed to a certain food or dish, he can decide that he likes it one day, no matter how healthy it is!
- Make colorful smoothies. When it comes to getting kids to eat vegetables, remember that fruit and the blender can be your best friends. One of the best ways to minimize the taste of veggies and “hide” their flavor is by blending them with some yummy fruit. Mix some berries and a banana with some spinach or kale, add a protein such as yogurt and blend with orange or another type of juice and voila! A medley of sweet flavors that will completely hide the vegetables that are in the smoothie.
- Get creative. You’ll be amazed by how much more attractive vegetables can be when they are arranged in a colorful and creative manner. Get some small cookie cutters and cut carrot or zucchini rounds into shapes and serve with a dip. Cut cherry tomatoes in half and make a smile out of them with other vegetables serving as eyes and a nose. The best part: When it comes to eating fruits and vegetables, getting a variety of colors is great for your body, and something doctors highly recommend. And, it's great for boosting your immune system, too.
- Use peer influence. Never underestimate the power of being around others who are gobbling up a delicious veggie dish. If your child sees mom, dad, and his siblings -- and especially his friends -- eating a certain food, you can bet that it will suddenly seem much more attractive to him.
- "Sneak" in the vegetables. When it comes to feeding kids vegetables, there’s nothing like a little covert operation. By that, I don’t mean lying to your children and telling them that there are no veggies in a dish when you have, say, grated them into the sauce. But you can use clever recipes to minimize the appearance of said veggies so that they are as obvious. If your child asks, by all means tell the truth (after all, you don’t want to undermine her trust by lying about what’s in the food you are serving her). To minimize the appearance of vegetables in dishes, try these tips for how to hide veggies in kids’ meals.
- Keep your frustration in check. It can be terribly discouraging to have your child reject the delicious servings of broccoli, beans, or carrots you prepared so lovingly in the hopes that this time, he might just try a few bites. But try to remember not to take his rejection of a dish you made as something other than a step in the process of his developing his tastes as he gets older. When you take the long view, and realize that his dislike for some particular vegetables may change down the line, it can make it easier to see that this is a temporary situation.
- Don’t push--and refrain from bribing. I have a friend who is a grown married woman and a mom who to this day, dislikes rice. Why? When she was a child, she was bribed and pressured into eating it. Whatever small dislike she had for that food then developed into a deep abhorrence, which has stayed with her. If you try techniques that are overly aggressive, it can backfire and lead to a long-term dislike for those foods.