By Kristin Louis
Vegetables are chock-full of the nutrients kids need to develop healthy brains and bodies. Unfortunately, getting kids to eat them can be a major struggle. But kids aren’t doomed to be picky eaters! With these creative parenting strategies, you can raise little ones who eat their veggies with enthusiasm.
Cook Kid-Friendly Veggies
A child’s refusal to eat a certain vegetable isn’t always a matter of pickiness. As Bon Appetit discusses, taste in food changes with age. Children’s taste buds are more inclined toward sweet foods, whereas bitter foods can be overpowering to young kids. Rather than trying to push your kids to eat a bowl of Brussels sprouts, offer up less bitter, more kid-friendly vegetables like carrots, bell peppers, squash, beets, beans, and peas.
What would you rather eat, a bowl of plain steamed vegetables or veggies that have been dressed up and plated for visual appeal? Like grown-ups, kids eat with their eyes first. Parents can increase kids’ consumption of vegetables by cutting them into fun shapes using cookie cutters, serving bright, colorful vegetables, or plating bite-size veggies with a tasty dip.
Kids are averse to change, and that aversion can show up in the most minor of ways — like insisting they hate a new vegetable when they’ve never even tried it. But by increasing a vegetable’s familiarity by repeatedly exposing children to it, parents can increase kids’ consumption of healthy foods. Unfortunately, most parents give up too early: According to Quartz, more than 90 percent of caregivers offered a new food three to five times before giving up. However, toddlers and preschoolers typically must be offered a new food five to 15 times before they eat and enjoy it. When young children are offered a new food consistently, more than half end up liking it.
If you’re not sitting down to eat as a family, you’re missing a prime opportunity to model healthy eating for your kids. When children see their parents enjoying healthy foods, they’re more likely to give those same foods a try. It’s also a great opportunity get kids involved in the kitchen. Ask little ones to help gather ingredients and chop vegetables. Even toddlers can slice and chop with kids’ knives. While you might not get the most even results, your kids will be proud to eat a meal they helped prepare.
If the prospect of less-picky kids isn’t enough to get you to adopt a family dinner routine, consider this: According to KidsHealth, family meals also make children less likely to smoke, drink alcohol, and use drugs in the teenage years.
Kids want to feel they have control over their food choices. However, it’s not practical to involve your toddler in dinner prep every night, and few kids enjoy a trip to the supermarket. The farmers market, on the other hand, is a fun, kid-friendly environment. Bring little ones to the local farmers market where they can choose from a buffet of interesting and unusual vegetables, from crisp kohlrabi to petite cucamelons. In addition to fresh vegetables straight from the source, many farmers markets offer free children’s activities with a focus on healthy eating — making the market a great place for the family to spend Saturday morning.
Waiting until your little ones are older isn’t a smart strategy for healthy eating. Food preferences are formed early in life, which means it’s up to parents to shape their kids’ eating habits. By taking a positive approach to healthy eating rather than treating vegetables as a necessary evil, you can cultivate a love of vegetables in your children.
Kris Louis is mom to two rambunctious boys. Her oldest is 10 and her youngest is 7. A former advertising copywriter, she recently created parentingwithkris.com, where she puts her skills to work writing about the trials and tribulations of parenting. Kris, her husband, and two boys live in Durham, NC.