So, yes, that is a picture of my children in a moment of pure delight. No, we did not inspire this delight by saying, “Smile and say ‘Hooray for vegetables!'” They’re great kids and they usually eat fruit and vegetables quite willingly, but I would have to suspect that aliens had taken over their little bodies if the thought of eating vegetables actually made them this happy. Still, as I say, to varying degrees, each of my three kids is a reasonably agreeable fruit and veggie eater. And when I hear from other friends whose kids would rather eat a green Lego than a green vegetable, I feel pretty thankful. Recently I had a conversation with one such fellow mom. For awhile now she’s been wracking her brain to think of effective ways to get her little ones to eat anything but bread and cheese. Since I’m studying nutrition (and since we’ve had our share of healthy food struggles in our house, too) I tried to give her some ideas to implement. I figured it I shared my thoughts with her, I might as well share them on the blog as well. Some may seem obvious, and they may not work on every kid, as every child is different, but I’d say they’re worth a try!
1. Start early. This one is especially for those parents with really little ones. Even from their first meals, kids are getting acclimated to what’s “normal” eating in your household. Start with fruits and vegetables as a given at every meal.
2. Be a good example. As a parent, you set the tone for the way your family eats. Why should your kids eat healthy foods if you don’t? Model what you want to see in them.
3. Fun presentation. This may be the most effective one for my kids. They go BONKERS for fruit slices on skewers, “ghosty bananas” (half bananas with two chocolate chips for eyes), or their names written with carrot sticks. Entire studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of fun presentation for getting kids to eat well. There are a million ideas at your fingertips on the Internet. This also correlates with…
4. What’s in a name? This takes a little creativity but can make a difference. What would your kid rather eat: vegetable soup or Swamp Soup? (Maybe even Swamp of Dagobah Soup if your kids are Star Wars fans.) How about Green Mountain Salad instead of spinach salad? This works on adults, too, by the way, which is why we’d rather order Hand-Tossed Tuscan Kale Salad than just a kale salad.
5. Dipping sauces. Here’s another element of fun, plus a measure of perceived control for kids. If a child can make her own decision about which condiment accompanies her veggie–Ranch? barbecue sauce? ketchup?–she’ll feel more autonomous. In the presence of ketchup, my kids can’t help but make every long cylindrical food item into a Darth Maul light saber (ketchup on both ends). Just make sure they eat the actual vegetable, not just the sauce, like a certain 3-year-old in my house.
6. Variety of preparation. Your kid doesn’t like raw beets? Neither do I. Different preparations appeal to different people. Since kids often gravitate toward sweet tastes, roasting vegetables to bring out their inherent sweetness may please their palates. Sauces, honey, bread crumbs, cheese, and other toppings can go a long way to make vegetables more appetizing for little ones.
7. Not just for dinner (or lunch). In our house, the general trend seems to be fruits at breakfast and lunch, vegetables at dinner. It’s an unspoken cultural rule that serves no real purpose. There’s no reason why fruit can’t turn up on the dinner table, or why vegetables can’t make a cameo at breakfast. And don’t forget snack time! Apples with peanut butter, sweet peppers with hummus, or fruit smoothies can pack fruit and veggie servings in when they go missing at mealtimes.
8. Mix, don’t hide. While I don’t agree with the idea of hiding fruits and vegetables in kids’ foods, I do believe serving them incorporated into mixed dishes can help them go down easier. Casseroles, quiches, and pizzas are great items to pack with veggies.
9. Offer choice. “Would you rather have carrots or peas tonight?” “Would you like strawberries or apples in your lunchbox?” Every kid likes to choose for himself, as evidenced by the chorus of “I want the blue plate, not the pink one!” and “I want waffles, not toast!” that reverberates through my kitchen on a daily basis.
10. Keep trying! Remember that even adults have personal taste preferences. So your kid isn’t a fan of carrots. That’s okay. There are plenty of other fish in the sea…or vegetables in the produce aisle (and fruits!).