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Who likes hearing ‘I don’t want to eat that’ after you slaved away or, let’s be honest, just put something together last-minute? It makes me want to pull out my hair and say ‘fine then make something yourself’ … which does not work with a one-year old and four-year old. Kids refuse veggies for a number of reasons. We are currently in a power struggle with our four-year old who asks what we are having just so he can say ‘NO’. Well what if you deal more with kids who do not like the textures or colors of veggies. We all know veggies don’t always seem the most appetizing. As adults we understand why we should eat them but kids don’t really care about that. So how do we convince them that veggies are the best thing since sliced bread? Here are some tried and true tricks to get your kids eating veggies in no time.
1. Nosh on veggies yourself, from the beginning. Research shows that the flavors from the foods you eat when you are pregnant end up flavoring your amniotic fluid. This means if you eat a variety of veggies your baby will get used to the flavor of those veggies and be more willing to eat them outside of the womb. Research also shows that it is the same with a nursing mother. If you are giving your baby your breast milk, eating veggies flavors your breast milk and those babies are more likely to find those flavors favorable when they start eating solid foods. From a young age, our kids mirror our behavior. Make sure you are eating a variety of veggies and avoid acting disgusted by any veggies. If you want your kids to be adventurous, be adventurous yourself.
2. Include your kids. Bring your kids along grocery shopping and allow them to pick out a new vegetable they want to try. I know bringing your kids to the grocery store may not be your favorite thing to do – we have all experienced the screaming baby in the checkout lane (it can’t be just my kids right?!). If you can’t handle that, then start including them in preparing the veggies for your nightly meal. Or, start a garden and encourage your child to help decide what to grow and have them pick the veggies when they are ripe. Including your kids in the process of buying, picking out, preparing, or growing veggies has been shown to deepen their connection to the vegetables and make them more willing to try new foods.
3. Start with veggies that have subtle flavors or are on the sweeter side to encourage kids to be willing to try them. Sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, peas, and corn are all good veggies to start with to get your kids used to eating veggies.
4. Make veggies fun. Play pretend or make it a game. Have your kids act like they are dinosaurs who need to eat all the little trees on their plate (aka broccoli) before the volcano erupts (set a timer to ding). Arrange the veggies on the plate to make fun designs they will enjoy, like cucumber slices in the shape of a cloud or red pepper slices in the shape of a heart. You can even use cookie cutters and cut some of the veggies into fun shapes to get them excited about eating them.
5. Make sure your kids are hungry when you offer veggies. A great time to offer is when your kids get hungry right before dinner. Set out a bowl of fresh veggies and some hummus and let them have a little snack.
6. Include veggies with food your kids already love. Add veggies to mac n cheese and pizza. They may be more willing to try them if they are mixed into something they really enjoy eating. Try this healthy spinach mac n cheese recipe your family will love, here.
7. Give them choices. When it comes to power struggles, giving your kids more than one choice at a meal will make them feel like they have control and you will encounter fewer fights.
8. Appeal to your kids…with reasons they actually care about. Don’t try to entice them to eat their veggies by saying they are healthy, you will notice a glazed over look from them because they don’t care. Make it about what THEY feel is important. For example, try telling them their veggies will help them grow bigger and stronger, or help them run faster. Make it personal and they will embrace it easier.
9. Make them try one bite before saying ‘no’. Remember, it can take up to 10 exposures to a new food before they find the flavor favorable. Even just one bite time and time again may help them learn to like the flavor.
10. Don’t make them finish all the vegetables. While we want them to eat healthy, fighting over food will give them a negative experience they will associate with that food down the road. Once they have tried it and decide they do not want to eat it, let them stop. Try again another time.
11. Mask the flavor. When kids are younger, bitter tastes are magnified and are very unappealing. As we get older we get used to a variety of tastes and it becomes normal. Until your kids get used to some of the flavors from the veggies, try to mask the flavor. Add olive oil with a splash of lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, cinnamon, honey, or Mrs. Dash salt free seasoning mixes to hide the taste.
12. Hide the veggies. This is not ideal but to get your kids the vitamins, minerals, and fiber they need from veggies you may just need to hide the veggies in foods they will eat. This way they still get used to some of the flavors without the fight. Here are some ways to get creative…
- Choose veggies similar in color to what you are making so they do not stand out as much. They might just eat one without realizing it.
- Finely chop veggies in a food processor and add them to meals (casseroles, pasta sauces, mac and cheese). American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that children 3-5 years old eat nearly double the veggies when they are served purée veggies vs whole veggies. Our favorites are broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach. Try this veggie lasagna recipe that you would never guess had veggies in it, here.
- Use a veggie spiralizer. This is my newest favorite that works great with my kids! Buy a spiralizer and turn the veggies into noodles. Some easy ones that my kids love are zucchini, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash. You can find a spiralizer, like this one here, stick a veggie on the end and simply crank it into noodles. Once you have your noodles use them in place of pasta in your favorite spaghetti recipe. You can search for spiralized veggie recipes and find a lot of great ideas. Your kids will have a good time watching you make noodles out of the veggies too.
- Use veggies in your baked goods. There are so many recipes out there with star ratings so you know what others approve. Options like carrot muffins, veggie pancakes, and black bean brownies taste great. Try this amazing, juicy and filling peanut butter zucchini bread, here.
- Add veggies to smoothies. Bananas, pineapple, and berries cover up spinach in a smoothie really well.
Download your free Cheat Sheet on how to get your kids to eat vegetables here
Whether it is about a power struggle or a texture issue, you can find ways to get your kids the veggies they need. What are your favorite ways to get your kids to eat their veggies?
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