Kids and Vegetables don’t usually go hand in hand, do they? I promise you that it’s doable, you just need patience. LOTS of it. And low expectations about how quickly it will take for them to learn to eat them. That goes for any new (and usually healthy) food. Kids take time to develop a taste for a food. It’s not a quick fix, it takes time, lots of patience, and effort.
When parents tell me that their child is a picky eater, after a few questions it’s usually because the parent has given up too soon or doesn’t want the drama at night in persevering with the vegetable routine. How many times have you given them cheesy pasta because you just don’t want the battle. We’re all guilty, me too. I get it, parenthood is full of negotiations and battles. We’re all exhausted from homework time to bother with dinner battles as well. However at some point you realise your child really needs those valuable nutrients to grow and develop, and you get a plan in place. Everything is easier with a plan. It’s 100% possible to teach them to eat vegetables, I promise you. Take the time to read this and you’ll be halfway there.
Now so as you read through these tips remember – the aim here is to ‘teach’ your child to eat vegetables, not ‘get’ them to eat vegetables. There’s a big difference.. and that difference will lead to success or failure.
So here are some tips to get you started. Whatever the age!
- Start Small. I mean the tiniest bit of a vegetable, it could be 2-3 peas, one tiny sprig of a broccoli, a little slither of carrot. It’s not going to be huge, it’s not going to dominate the plate. It’s going to look totally achievable to your child.
- It’s ok if they dip it in sauce or mayonnaise, whatever helps in making it fun and yummy. If it helps them to absorb some good nutrients then go for it. You should be able to see SOME of the vegetable though under all that sauce, we don’t want to load them up with too much sugar from the sauce after all.
- Now this is really important .. forget every approach your parents had with you. We’re not going to force them to eat them, or punish them if they don’t, or bribe them with dessert if they do. Do NOT be tempted here. Seriously. Make sure your partner is on the same page here. This all places negative connotations on vegetables and reiterates to their mind that vegetables are horrible and they need rewards to eat them or they must be really REALLY BAD if i’m getting punished for not eating them.
- Instead give them encouragement about strong muscles and healthy brains and eyes, keep prompting them to try their veg, and keep on with your meal. Do not enter the vegetable battle. Even if you put those veg on their plate for 3 months and you never get a nibble, you’re going to keep doing it. Dinner time is for fun, it’s for family dialogue, it’s not for arguing.
- Now remember, we’re going to keep putting those tiny bits of veggies on their plate every night. Little pieces. It can take 12 or more attempts before a child will accept a new veg. Even if they eat pizza it’s a little side plate of a very small amount – maybe a few carrot slices
- If they really hate a particular vegetable don’t force it, or it will give all the other veggies a really bad rap in their mind. Try something else. Give them variety. But always give them a few veg or you’ll go backwards in steps. Get some little bowls and put it on the side of their plate. get creative, make smiley faces with peas and carrots, and sauce for mouths.
- Take the kids to the greengrocer and ask them to show you what veggies they’d like to try this week. Ask them to choose a few each. You’re not asking if they want to eat veg, you’re asking WHICH they’d like. It’s official .. if they are helping to choose they are more likely to eat them.
- Eat seasonal vegetables, it’s a funny way that nature has to give us all the nutrients our body needs at different times. It’s also a way to eat variety so that you know that you’re getting all the different nutrients you (and your child) needs. Variety is key, so you’re not missing out on any one nutrient.
- Now kids love chopping food. Any chance they get. Show them how to prepare the veggies , let them help with the cutting (age appropriate knives of course) and they’re so much more likely to eat them. Promise.
- Steam or bake your veggies, don’t boil them. Not only will this stop all the nutrients in the vegetables disappearing into the water (especially those all important water soluble vitamins) but they will taste better too. Don’t overcook them, kids hate soft soggy veggies, I don’t blame them!
- Mix your veggies into their meals once they get comfortable with them. Rice or risotto can easily have a few peas mixed in, corn inside fritters, carrot in muffins and cakes. Don’t hide it – show them that you have nothing to hide.
- This is a good one – put the veggies on the plate before anything else, preferably when they are at the table or kitchen bench waiting for you to serve up dinner. Don’t say anything just gently push the plate towards them. I always tell them dinner is ready 5 minutes before it is, they sit there talking to me munching away on their veggies without realising because they are sooo hungry
- Which leads me to .. – Make sure your child gets to the dinner table hungry .. no late afternoon snacks a half hour before dinner, we’re a snacking mad nation. A hungry child will always eat. Do not let them have a sandwich after dinner if they left most of it on their plate. They need to know that dinner is dinner, there’s nothing else. There are only so many nights before they realise that this is the deal. Unless they devoured it of course, then batter up something healthy for after meals. Apples and peanut butter are a real treat, protein rich for growing bodies and a good nights sleep.
back to the vegetables. Let them see you loading up your plate with veggies and salad. Thank them for helping you with your dinner tonight. Talk to each other about how good you feel eating all these veggies. Kids take in more than you think.
You want to get to the point where you are putting 3 different veg on their plate, even if it’s 3 or 4 peas, a broccoli and some carrot slices, and once they start to eat it all, add a little more without them realising. Take time to build up, don’t go lumping a big heap of broccoli on their plate after a week. This will startle the most seasoned vegetable eater!
Remember, slow and steady. It’s not a sprint it’s a marathon. We want positive connotations with vegetables, not negative one’s. keep explaining what each vegetable is good for. Ask them if they can remember what vitamin is in carrots and then what that vitamin is great for. Kids love learning, they will appreciate them more if you tell them how they will help. Involve them and you’ll see the improvements … I promise.