My friends are constantly amazed at the variety of healthy foods my children will eat even though they also get access to junk food. You can encourage your kids to eat vegetables, and there are a few things that will make it easier. I’ve talked about the “snack” supper before, and that’s a great help. Here are the other things we do…
Frequent Exposure Encourages Kids to Eat Vegetables
The more often a child is exposed to a food, the more likely they will grow to like it. Of course, this does require that you get a bite or two into their mouths. We start as soon as our babies are old enough to eat small bites (ten months or so) and give them little bits of olive from our salad. Olives have a strong flavor and because of this after a few attempts olives become the toddlers favorite food. Once they enjoy olives, trying other new vegetables and foods is relatively easy. They catch the flavor bug. Suddenly, trying new flavors is fun and exciting.
On the flip side, if you feed your child peanut butter and jelly every single day, peanut butter and jelly is all they are going to eat. In our home, if we eat something our children also eat it from the very beginning. We are not short order cooks. My children are exposed to a lot of different flavors. Even now with older children, when we try a new food all of our children are expected to try it with us. If we want to include it in our menu again, we have it several weeks in a row to increase each child’s exposure.
Variety Encourages Kids to Eat Vegetables
Speaking of all those vegetables, I think variety is key across the board. Our children are fed Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Lebanese, Afghan, Greek, German, American, and Thai cuisine (and I am sure that is not a comprehensive list). Sometimes all in one week. They will eat almost anything. We have a few who do still do not enjoy hot (spicy) foods, but we continue to expose them and their tolerance for heat is increasing. All six will eat most of the vegetables listed above, with a few exceptions. One child hates cucumber. All six of my children will eat salads. All six of my children enjoy homemade soups. The key is in frequent exposure to a large variety.
Family Games Encourage Kids to Eat Vegetables
We did a nutrition unit once where we picked two or three weeks of vegetable dishes to try out of a new cookbook. Each child was able to build a caterpillar on the wall one body piece at a time as they tried new foods. It was a competition of sorts, and we had a lot of fun. We were able to add several healthy favorites to our menu and my older children still talk about those caterpillars. It’s probably time to run this gig again. Another great tool we used was a Food Pyramid Pocket Chart hanging next to our table. We had the kids sort the cards into the correct slots, and talked it over at quite a few meals.
Rewards Encourage Kids to Eat Vegetables
If you are not hungry enough to eat your vegetables, you are not hungry enough to get dessert. Period. Consistency is the key. We try to have a little something available for dessert most nights. Sometimes it is just ten m&m’s, but we call it dessert. Sometimes it is Apple Pomegranate Crisp, which happens to be a favorite in our home.
Healthy Snacks Must Prevail
When a child asks for a snack in my home, they get a standard answer every time. “Yes, you can have a snack. You can have grapes, apples, bananas, cherries, strawberries (a.k.a. whatever fruit we have in the house), celery or carrots (see list of dippable veggies we stock below,) roasted seeds, granola, yogurt, cheese or nuts.” All fairly healthy snacks, and I try to keep a variety on hand at all times. Low fat, dairy free popcorn is usually available but not always offered. Cheese, yogurt and nuts are usually available and are limited to once a day. Unhealthy snacks might be offered occasionally, but I try to keep the healthy stuff on hand all the time, and limit the availability of unhealthy foods.
Dips are AWESOME
We offer raw veggies with a variety of dips at snack times and meal times. Dips might include ranch dressing, raspberry vinaigrette, peanutbutter, almond butter, hummus, homemade bean dips, or blue cheese dressing. Veggies might include sugar snap peas, carrots, celery, broccoli, red peppers, edamame, zucchini, cucumbers, pickles, etc.
Let Them Play
Lest you think I am encouraging a food fight, let me explain. I bought my kids a set of child-safe knives. These knives safely cut bananas, grapes, red peppers, strawberries, and a host of other foods. My three year olds love to slice their own bananas. My eight year old makes her own fruit salad with these plastic knives! My husband taught my children to make a special dip. They can make it themselves and they think it is great. First they have to find something to dip… Then the fun begins.
Cut Food into Shapes.
We have a few special cutters that make veggie eating fun. One cuts cucumbers into crinkled slices. Another set cuts veggies into little hearts, stars or diamonds. Peppers can be sliced whole sideways to create flower slices. An apple peeler-corer-slicer tool is fun to use with supervision and creates a fun apple slinky. These specially shaped foods are fun to play with and eat!
Teach Kids to Cook
Nothing encourages a child to eat something more then having that child prepare the food. Remember that fruit salad my daughter makes? She puts raw carrots in it. She gets all the other kids to eat it! They all think it is great because she makes it for them. This is a powerful tool. If you aren’t sure where to start, try these books:
Model Healthy Eating
This is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your child’s eating habits and future health. Eat healthy foods. It kinda stinks, but it is the truth. If Mama eats healthy, chances are good the whole family will eat healthy. If Mama sneaks candy every chance she gets, chances are good that the kids will too.
So tell me, how do you encourage your kids to eat vegetables? Please comment and let me know.