This weekend our boys, once again, amazed friends by eating vegetables. And it wasn’t even pizza. They ate winter squash, green beans, salad (with garlic, cilantro and cabbage), sliced kolhrabi, beets…
We always get comments on this, apparent, oddity. Our five-year old and two-year old beg us for carrots and green beans. I’ve been known to complain to my sister that H ate all the carrots and now I don’t have enough for tonight’s dinner. And I’ve had to hide tomatoes from them.
People always ask how we got them to be this way. My number one rule is that I’m not a short order cook. What I make for dinner is what we all eat together. No exceptions. Besides that, here are my tips on how to get your kids to eat their vegetables:
- Grow Veggies. It is cool to see something go from seed to plant to fruit to table. Let them plant. Let them water. Let them harvest. I betcha they’ll eat it. If I ask H which vegetables taste the best, the ones from the garden or those from the store, his answer is not surprising… the garden!
- Let Them Shop. After the garden, H likes vegetables in this order: “The Farm” (our CSA), the farmer’s market, then the store. He loves knowing where his food comes from. Our dinner conversation typically involves some, “where is this from” Q & A. He is more invested in the farm vegetables, because he has seen the ground it was grown in. The farm is fun. He like the farmers market because we talk it up, and because he usually gets to pick something out to take home. But even at the grocery store, he gets to weigh in on choices. “Would you rather have kale or broccoli for dinner this week?” Making a choice, gives them an investment in eating the vegetable later.
- Let them cook. Even little kids can pull up a step stool and wash carrots and potatoes. Older kids can stir the onions as they sauté. If they’ve helped make it, they are more likely to want to help eat it. Putting work into it makes it more appealing.
- Eat YOUR Veggies. Kids don’t buy the “do as I say, not as I do” garbage. They will do what you do. If I hear my kids saying something I don’t like, chances are they heard it from me first. Same goes for food. If you don’t like something, only eat a bite or two. But eat some, and eat it with a happy face. This applies to your partner too. If Dad doesn’t want to eat the green stuff, you kids probably won’t either.
- Offer Veggies. I know that I’ve already grown tired of hearing “Can we have a snack?” But I know I can grab the bag of green beans from the ice box and they can go to town. This is because I say, “Sure, would you guys like green beans or carrots?” They usually say yes to both. If I offered green beans or bunny crackers, they’re going to pick the crackers. So I don’t offer the crackers.
- Remember, Tastes Change. Remind them of that too. Just because they didn’t like it last time, doesn’t mean they won’t like it this time. Babies and children need to try foods several times before they really know if they like them or not. At every meal, they have to at least try every thing that is served. This is good practice as adults too, and it’s great for teaching good manners as a dinner guest – just because you don’t like Mom’s potato salad, doesn’t mean you won’t like Mrs. Dickinson’s. You need to at least try a bite. It’s polite, and you might be surprised.
- Don’t Buy Junk. Just don’t. If potato chips aren’t available, they’ll eat an apple instead. You will too. 😉
The recurring theme here is investment. The more work they put into their food, the more they will want to get out of it. And you can’t argue with delicious results. We don’t draw battle lines with food, but we do negotiate. This summer, the only vegetable H really didn’t like was zucchini. That was tough at first. I still made lots of zucchini. But at every meal, I told him, he didn’t have to eat all of it, but he had to try it. By the end of the summer, he had no problem with it. It still wasn’t his favorite. I put one into a late ratatouille, and when he asked for seconds, he said, “but no zucchini, please.” I’m ok with him picking it out, especially on seconds. Especially because he ate some with his first serving.
It’s not automatic. We still have to remind them to try things. Sometimes although I offer two veggies, they ask for crackers. But generally, it works. You too can amaze your friends! 😉
Moms, what are your tips for getting the greens into your kids?
This is GREAT advice! Thanks!!
I’ve done those things too. My daughter (now 15) will marvel that her friends don’t eat veggies. Sure, she loves fries too, but she does crave a good clean meal nearly every day. I add veggies to lots of skillet dinners too and the kids just eat it all. I’ve never add a problem with veggies per se, either. My only other thought is to make sure that the veggies are prepared well. Bland over steamed broccoli is gross, but broccoli oven roasted with lots of fresh garlic? Yum!
A lot of it comes down to parenting, and I know our kids have been fussy eaters because early on, we let them get away with it! I didn’t set out for it to be that way, I guess I just chose my own sanity a lot of the time. I LOVE vegetables and different foods, and cooking… I always assumed I’d have kids that would appreciate food and my cooking! I mean, they have always eaten vege’s, in spaghetti bolognese sauce, on pizza, in vege fritters, in vege bake and quiche, mixed mash, with the only ‘obvious’ vege’s being honey carrots, sweet potato wedges, or corn on the cob. It is just the unwillingness to eat straight-up vege’s that was the problem, and the unwillingness to try different foods.
These days they are better eaters in general, and we are stricter about trying and eating a certain amount of vegetables… we are still working on them having a green vege they like. I tell them they don’t have to like everything, it is OK to have something they won’t eat (my husband disagreed and I said, if I served him sardines for dinner, would he eat it?) but if they won’t eat a certain food, they have to find another one they will, to get a wide range of nutrition. My son, almost 4, is very into ‘noo-twition’ and asks about most foods, how much ‘noo-twition’ the item has! I think vege’s are important, but there are plenty of other things to make sure they eat/ don’t eat too… it’s the mindset that we hope to improve! In a family of gluten-free and dairy-free, and me being into food & nutrition, I spend a lot of time thinking about food!
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I found a food study done in the u.s. to be very interesting. Baby food manufacturers find it difficult to limit sugar and salt because the consumer insists baby won’t eat moderate/low sugar. The study members travelled the world, Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin america and asked to visit and see family prepared meals. Turns out many cultures serve up seasoned, spicy, even hot foods. Simply put, children including babies old enough eat pretty much what the family eats. They may get milder spices, but generally you eat what’s served. Its expected, no one caters to the finicky eater, and most seem to enjoy their food. Simply put until parents realize children will eat what papa and mama and grandparents enjoy, we will continue to see brand name baby food companies drop the reduced sugar and salt loads because they don’t sell. Sure, if a child just won’t touch a Brussels sprout, let them eat something else. Sooner or later they may try it again. In middle school my daughter deceided the only edible food at the restaurant was grilled cheese. We tried everything to get her to order anything else! Finally she did. Lol.