Chances are when you were a kid, you heard your parents telling you to eat your vegetables. Now you’re all grown up with children of your own, and it’s your turn to repeat the mantra. It was a good lesson then, and it’s a good lesson now. While fruits, with all their natural sweetness, tend to be relatively easy for children to eat, vegetables are both more nutritious and more challenging.
Vegetables are healthy foods and should find their way into your children’s diets. But how do we get kids to eat them?
Exposing Your Child To Vegetables
If your child isn’t interested in a certain type of vegetable, you might feel discouraged, especially if you have already offered it several times. If you are persistent, there’s a good chance your child will eventually try it. For many children, it takes 8 to 10 tries to develop a willingness to eat a new food. This is especially true for vegetables, whose texture and taste can be unappealing to youngsters.
Keep portion sizes and preparation styles in mind. Try to start with a relatively small portion of perhaps one or two bites. This might help prevent them from being overwhelmed by a full serving.
If your child is refusing certain preparations, such as raw spinach, try adding the vegetable to a food that they already like. But be careful to avoid serving vegetables only in this way. You don’t want their young impressionable minds to feel like vegetables are “hidden” in muffins or smoothies. They might start to refuse other foods out of basic suspicion.
Tips For Getting Your Child To Eat More Vegetables
If your child is still struggling to accept vegetables in their diet, you might want to try one of the following tips.
Tip #1 Involve Them In Grocery Shopping
A young child’s mind is hard-wired to be excited by new experiences. Something as simple as letting them pick out a green pepper, a tomato, or a bag of carrots when shopping might help pique their curiosity about how it tastes.
Many children will even feel a sense of ownership or pride, which leads to greater willingness to at least try it. If they are receptive, you can talk to them about how the vegetable tastes, how it is grown, or how it is used.
Tip #2 Get Them Involved In Simple Food Prep
Kids love to lick the spoon when you make cupcakes or cookies. Wouldn’t it be great if they felt this way about vegetables? Letting them get involved in something such as putting the vegetables in a salad or putting the sliced carrots in a soup can foster a sense of curiosity, pride, and ownership. This can then lead to a willingness to try the vegetable as part of a larger dish.
Tip #3 Incorporate A New Vegetables Into A Food They Already Like
A lot of kids take a while to warm up to new vegetables, especially if they are placed on a plate as a side dish separate from the rest of the entre. Working a vegetable into another food that they already like, without making it seem like you are “hiding” it in a portion of food they enjoy, can warm them up to the vegetable over time.
This could mean adding diced carrots to your spaghetti sauce or putting some zucchini bits in their macaroni & cheese. Of course, you can always add new vegetables to the often well received slice of pizza!
Tip #4 Cut The Vegetable Into Fun Shapes
Kids love vibrant colors and playful creativity. Think of how kids enjoy a smiley face of ketchup on their hamburger, or a pancake in the shape of a dinosaur or Mickey Mouse! The same can be done with carrots and slices of pepper to make a smiley face on their salad. Carrot sticks and zucchini can be made to look like starburst fireworks. When you put your mind to it, there are a lot of creative ways to make vegetables fun.
Tip #5 Add Vegetables to Sauces
If you are the type of person who loves to make your own sauces to go with certain dishes, you might want to try adding bits of the vegetable to a sauce your child already likes. This might include adding carrots to a cheese sauce or onions to beef gravy. Just remember, you are adding it with transparency, rather than hiding it in their food.
Tip #6 Use Vegetables In Popular Baked Goods
Some vegetables like carrots and zucchini can be shredded and used in baked goods. Zucchini bread, carrot cake, zucchini muffins, and more can be a great way to get your child to try and even enjoy a new vegetable. Once they start to warm up to it, you can take the new vegetable to the lunch table or supper plate.
Beware Packaged Vegetables
Packaged vegetables might seem like a convenient way to sneak vegetables into a meal, but most kids prefer fresh vegetables, especially carrots, which have a lot of natural sweetness that can get lost in processing. Canned corn and other canned foods tend to lose a lot of their nutrition and flavor when processed.
With younger children, food safety can also be a concern. Cut grapes in half to prevent them from becoming a choking hazard. You want to make sure hard vegetables, like carrots and zucchini, are in safe bite-size portions, especially if you are working them into a sauce or as part of another food.
Food Allergy Awareness
Some children can be prone to food allergies, and you might not know it. If you are introducing a new vegetable, and there are food allergies in the family, you might want to first consult with your pediatrician. They can help assess the risks of an allergic reaction, and might also be able to give you tips about how to introduce the vegetable in a way that is appropriate for your child’s age.