Is Your Child a Picky Eater? 10 Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat More Vegetables
We all know that eating a variety of vegetables is important to our health, and this is true for kids and adults alike. What do you do if your child is a picky eater and trying to get them to eat vegetables seems like an exercise in frustration?
Read on for 10 tips to help your kids eat more vegetables, and maybe even learn to like them in the process.
1. Involve Your Child in Meal Planning
Empowering your child with the ability to help plan the dinner menu can help avoid power struggles around mealtime, and may lead to more success in getting him to eat healthier foods. Obviously, you probably don't want to give up complete control of meal planning, unless you're prepared to eat a steady diet of pizza or chicken fingers and fries. However, you can ask your child to help you plan dinner by making certain choices about which foods to include, or how they will be prepared.
For example, you could ask if they would prefer:
- cooked carrots or raw carrots
- broccoli or cauliflower
- mashed potatoes or baked potatoes
- asparagus with cheese sauce or hollandaise sauce
By involving your child in the decision making process, you help give them a sense of having some control over what they eat. This can work wonders in getting them to eat healthier meals while avoiding meal time battles.
2. Serve Vegetables with Kid-Friendly Sauces and Dips
Many parents have discovered the secret to getting their kids to eat more vegetables is to serve it with dip or cover it in a cheesy sauce. If this works with your child, then I encourage you to do it. Eventually they will learn to enjoy the vegetables without the added dips or sauces, but in the meantime at least they are getting the nutrition from the vegetables. You may also be able to introduce new vegetables by serving them with familiar sauces and dips.
- Serve raw vegetables with dip for dipping. Some good choices are carrots, celery, cucumbers, peppers, broccoli and cauliflower.
- Hummus, which is made with chickpeas, makes a great dip for vegetables, crackers and pita bread or use it as a spread on sandwiches.
- Cheese sauce is a perfect topping for cauliflower or broccoli, but experiment with other vegetables too.
- For variety, try other sauces such as hollandaise or bernaise sauce over vegetables.
3. Visit Farms and Farmers' Markets With Your Kids
Visiting farms and farmers markets is a fun way to introduce your child to a variety of fresh produce. Meeting the farmers who grow their food, and perhaps tasting some samples can make vegetables more interesting and may help encourage your child to try some new foods. Encourage them to ask questions about the vegetables and how they are grown.
Fresh local vegetables usually taste better than vegetables from the grocery store, and are less likely to be treated with chemicals to extend their shelf life.
Visit local markets or farms as frequently as possible, and encourage your children to pick out something for dinner, such as the biggest carrots, the craziest looking squash or the prettiest tomatoes.
4. Lead by Example
Children learn a lot of their food attitudes and eating habits from watching their parents. You may tell them it's important to eat their vegetables, but if you make a face when offered brussel sprouts or by-pass the tray of veggies and dip to snack on chips instead, they will certainly pick up on these things.
Try to be a good role model for your children by modelling healthy eating whenever possible. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis and be willing to try new foods and recipes.
5. Grow Your Own Vegetables
Growing your own vegetable garden is a wonderful way to get your children to eat vegetables. Get your kids to help you plant the seeds or vegetable plants in the spring and involve them in helping to take care of the garden through the growing season. Children of all ages can help by watering the plants, pulling out weeds and harvesting the vegetables. Even kids that don't normally eat vegetables will likely be motivated to eat fresh vegetables from the garden when they've helped grow them.
Some great choices for a kid-friendly vegetable garden are:
- green beans
- cherry tomatoes
6. Cook With Your Children
When you cook with your child, you greatly increase the chance that they will eat the meal that you have made. Even young children can help snap the ends off of green beans, make a salad or wash vegetables. Older children can help with tasks like peeling or chopping vegetables, husking corn on the cob or mashing potatoes.
Helping to cook dinner can help take some of the mystery out of foods, and give your child motivation to sample the food they helped prepare.
7. Have Fun with Food
There are many ways to make eating vegetables fun for kids. There are healthy eating kits like Today I Ate a Rainbow and games like Crunch a Color that encourage childrent to eat a variety of different colors of fruits and vegetables, which is very important to good nutrition and health.
You can cut vegetables into funny shapes, or even make faces or animals out of different vegetables to serve as lunch or snacks.
Other ideas are stuffing celery stalks with cream cheese or peanut butter, letting kids build their own pizzas or planning meals around a certain colour.
8. Build on Existing Preferences
Most children will eat at least one or two vegetables. If there are certain vegetables that your child likes, it's a good strategy to try to expand their vegetable repetoire by introducing them to other vegetables that are similar in taste or texture to ones they will already eat.
Some children prefer crunchy raw vegetables, while others will only eat soft cooked vegetables with a mild taste. Figure out what your child's preferences are, and start with the easier wins first.
See the chart below for suggestions on how to increase your chances of success of getting your child to eat new vegetables.
Expanding the Vegetable Repetoire
If your child likes:
Similar food to try:
mashed sweet potatoes
sweet potato fries
parsnip or carrot fries
add vegetables to pasta sauce
add cucumbers or carrot
add spinach or kale
add pureed vegetables
add finely chopped vegetables
9. Sneak Veggies Into Favourite Foods
Although this strategy is often frowned upon, for many parents of picky eaters it is the only way they can get their children to eat certain vegetables.
If your child absolutely refuses to eat certain vegetables, or any vegetables on their own, there are many ways to hide vegetables in foods to ensure he is getting the nutrition he needs.
For example, if your child loves spaghetti, you can blend pureed or finely chopped vegetables like carrots, spinach, broccoli, zucchini, or peppers into the pasta sauce to add extra nutrition.
If your child likes muffins, you can usually get away with adding carrots, zucchini, sweet potatoes or pumpkin to them and they will still think the muffins are delicious.
You can add cauliflower to mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, black beans or spinach to brownies, or white beans to cookie recipes. Although some of these sound strange, you might be surprised how good these foods can taste.
For more creative ways to sneak vegetables into your children's favourite foods, be sure to check out Jessica Seinfeld's book "Deceptively Delicious" or "The Sneaky Chef" by Missy Chase Lapine.
10. Be Persistent
The secret to getting your child to eat a variety of vegetables is often persistence. Keep offering a wide variety of vegetables, presented in different ways. Encourage your child to try small bites, but try not to make it into a power struggle.
It may take many tries before your child is ready to really give certain vegetables a chance, but repeated exposure usually increases your eventual chances of success in introducing new foods.
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© 2012 Kathy Sima