How to Get Kids to Eat More Veggies
Are your kids getting the fruits and veggies they need? According to recent studies, it’s pretty unlikely. Despite the heroic efforts of parents everywhere, just 5.4% of children got their recommended dose of fruits and veggies in 2015. It’s a big problem – and not just because of food waste. Getting enough fruits and veggies in early childhood can significantly reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes – to name just a few.
So how can we get kids eating the fruits and veggies they need? Any parent will tell you it’s no easy feat to get picky eaters excited about carrots and broccoli. And no one wants to turn their dinner table into a battlefield. Discouraging? Of course. But this is one fight that’s just too important to ignore. There’s no magic solution that will work for every kid, but here are a few ideas to get you started…
Get Them Involved
When kids are involved in meal prep from the start, they might be more likely to take an interest in eating the results. There are tons of ways to get kids interested in fruits and veggies earlier in the process. Flip through a healthy cookbook with them and let them pick a recipe they like the look of – then bring them to the produce market to help select the veggies. If they have a favourite colour, try working that into the equation – whether it’s red peppers, orange carrots or pink radishes. In the kitchen, try making meal prep a hands-on activity. With a little luck, they’ll feel a sense of excitement and pride in a meal they helped cook, making them more likely to clean their plates.
Be a Good Role Model
Really want to get your kids eating veggies? Make sure you’re piling your own plate, too. Especially at a young age, children learn from example. If you’re wrinkling your nose at peas and carrots – you’re giving them the excuse to reject them, too. But discovering a shared love of sweet potatoes or green beans? That won’t just make your dinners healthier – it’ll make them more fun, to boot.
Try, Try Again
Research shows that children often won’t try a new vegetable until they’ve seen it 10-15 times. That number is both frustrating and encouraging. What it means is that, while they might not fall in love with broccoli on the first – or the ninth – try, they might still come around with a little patience. Try pairing an unfamiliar new ingredient with something you already know they like, whether it’s carrot sticks or apple slices, and try to get them to take just one bite of the new addition. It’s not easy, but the numbers don’t lie: never give up!
Go into Stealth Mode
Even if you find one or two fruits and veggies your picky kids love, the fact is they still might not be meeting their dietary needs. Enter the veggie sneak attack. By disguising vegetables and slipping them into more familiar foods, you’ll make sure they’re getting some extra fibre, vitamins and minerals – and they might even like it. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Try adding minced or finely grated carrots, onions and zucchini to marinara sauce for a simple, nutritious pasta. Bonus: use whole wheat pasta to make it an even more balanced meal.
- Add mashed or pureed squash or sweet potato to cheese sauce, then make it into something comforting like macaroni, lasagna or a casserole.
- Sneak some extra veggies into a comforting blended soup. If they like carrots, make a cream of carrot soup…but slip in some cauliflower and potato, too.
- On burger night, add some sauteed minced mushrooms and onions to your burger base. Because what kid doesn’t like burgers? Bonus: instead of fries, try serving them with baked zucchini sticks. Hey, it’s worth a shot.
- Add extra veggies to a familiar, flavourful dish, like chili or burritos. Taco night is a great excuse to get some extra fresh veggies on your kids’ plates.
- Mix shredded carrots, parsnips or zucchini into your kids’ favourite muffin recipe.
With so many creative ways to sneak veggies into your unsuspecting kids’ meals, it’s tempting to go all stealth mode, all the time. Why put you (and your kid) through the pain of another disagreement over a plate full of Brussels sprouts when you could have them eating a bowl of cauliflower and sweet potatoes, thinking it’s mac ‘n’ cheese?
It seems like a great idea, but it has its downsides: if children never get exposed to fresh fruits and veggies in all their undisguised glory, they’ll never learn to eat them. And those bad eating habits can lead to a life of poor nutrition.
Your best bet? Have it both ways. Keep on fighting the good fight by serving up whole, unadorned veggies on a regular basis – and remember it will often take many tries to open their minds to a new ingredient. But while you’re at it, keep your nutritional bases covered by also sneaking extra healthy ingredients into familiar comfort foods. After all, what’s not to like about serving the most nutritious version of any given dish – especially if you and your kids still love the taste?
We know it’s tough, but hang in there, parents! We salute you. Got a favourite tip for getting your kid to eat their greens? Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy eating, kids!
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