It seems like a simple enough premise. Offer kids up plenty of healthy foods -- fruits, vegetables and whole grains -- and they'll eat them willingly. But anyone that has ever tried to feed a child vegetables knows that it doesn't always work that way. From picky eaters who turn up their nose at anything new, to kids who claim they just don't like the green stuff, getting kids to eat vegetables can be a real challenge. The good news is, it doesn't have to be. Try employing some of these strategies and soon your little ones will be on a path to a lifetime of healthy eating.
Time Required: Varies, but your child will develop a lifetime of good eating
- Monitor what you eat. When the vegetable bowl gets passed around the table at dinner, do you pile the greens on your plate or do you politely demur and hope your kids don't notice? Guess what. They notice. They notice everything. If you aren't a fan of vegetables, chances are your kids aren't going to be either. So start with yourself. Take a healthy helping of veggies and make a show of it. Exclaim how good they taste, how crunchy they are, how nice it is to have such bright and colorful food on your plate. You are your child's first and best role model. Engage in behaviors you'd like them to mimic.
- Make them appetizing. Steamed brussel spouts might be incredibly healthy, but let's face it, they are not the most pleasant thing to look at (or smell for that matter). So change them up. Brussel Sprouts with Bacon looks and tastes good. Spaghetti squash is high in nutrients and it's fun to eat. A platter of cut up crudites with some low-fat dip makes for a visually appealing and delicious snack. Take your favorite every day vegetables and try something new. You may find a new favorite not only for your child, but your family too.
- Let them help you shop. A child who has a say in what gets put on his plate is more likely eat what is put in front of him. So the next time you are in the grocery store with your preschooler, get her opinion on what you are buying. Offer up one or two options of things you wouldn't mind purchasing and then let her decide. That night or the next, be sure to cook up her choices. Remind her of the role she played in this particular vegetable getting to the table and watch as she happily chows down.
- Let them help you cook. Even the youngest preschooler can lend a helping hand to lunch or dinner prep by washing vegetables, tearing lettuce or snapping the ends off of string beans. And like a kid who gets to give input in the grocery store, the child who can bring a dish they helped to prepare to the dinner table is going to be very proud to try what they had a hand in creating.
- Be sneaky (but for a good cause). Obviously you don't want to lie to your kids, but adding zucchini to your famous lasagna will only add to the taste and ensure kids are getting in an extra serving of veggies. Whenever I make tomato sauce, I add pureed carrots. No one ever notices the difference. Author Jessica Seinfeld makes a great case for this technique in her book, Deceptively Delicious (compare prices). In it are a ton of recipes for just about everything -- and they all have vegetables.
- Make vegetables as accessible as cookies. Sure, it's likely that your child would rather nosh on a cupcake than a piece of cucumber for snack time. But if vegetables are a ready-made choice -- washed, cut and ready to go -- you are more likely to offer them. And the more likely you offer a child something, the more likely they are to accept it. Keep a supply on hand, always at the ready in your refrigerator.
- Institute a reward system. You never want to resort to bribery, but in this cause it's for a good cause. Start a reward chart. For every serving vegetables that your child finishes, give him a sticker. You can have the stickers lead to a bigger reward, but the stickers on their own are probably enough. When your child tries a new veggie or eats one that she claims she doesn't like, heap on the praise. Celebrate that good food choices that your child makes and she will most likely want to make more of them.
- Give your kids time. They aren't going to start liking all vegetables overnight just because they enjoyed the veggie stir-fry you made last night. Just keep serving vegetables consistently and have your kids try them. They'll catch on.
What You Need
- A selection of fresh, colorful vegetables
- Stickers and a reward chart (if you choose to utilize this method)
- Kid-friendly vegetable recipes