Vegetables are great. They add color, flavor and texture to any meal. They are full of vitamins and nutrients. They are worth eating. Fresh vegetables are delicious. Kids need to learn this though. I hope this article helps you train your kids to eat their vegetables.
As a parent, it used to seem like a constant struggle to get my kids to eat their vegetables. Sure they all loved them when they were babies and they were pureed in cute little containers, but by the age of two, they flatly rejected them. My oldest kid was one of the pickiest eaters I’ve ever known. She would only eat pasta, pizza, and meat; not all meat mind you, only the super-processed breaded stuff. Then we found out she had celiac. Celiac is an auto-immune disease that makes your body unable to process gluten. That means you can’t eat any wheat, rye, or barley. Overnight all the foods she would eat were poison, and all the foods she refused, especially vegetables, were her new best friend.
Two years after her diagnosis of celiac all our kids (we have four) request vegetables for dinner. My daughter proudly says broccoli is her favorite food. Even our kids without celiac ask for vegetables. Not only do they ask for veggies, they devour them. The stranger the better. A new vegetable? Great. Snacks at our house are now routinely vegetables and humus. They rarely ask for candy or sweets.
How did we do this? What makes kids want to eat vegetables? Here are some of my non-scientific observations.
1. Serve Vegetables.
This seems obvious, but it is true. Usually with a small child we just want them to eat. It’s not worth the fight every night to make them eat something that they hate, so we gradually cut out or limit the vegetables we make them eat. Rarely do we give them new vegetables. Don’t give up. Keep serving vegetables. It has been shows that the more we eat a certain food, the more we like it. This is true of both children and adults. If you want your kid to eat vegetables, keep serving them vegetables.
2. Celebrate Success.
When we found a vegetable our kids would eat, we celebrated it. We literally clapped at the table. We made them feel great. We served it more often. We introduced new vegetables alongside their favorites. When they didn’t like a new vegetable, we reminded them how they didn’t like broccoli before, but now love it; soon it will be the same with butternut squash. When they tried a new vegetable we thanked them and gave them more of what they liked. We positively reinforced vegetables.
3. Cut Out Meat at Least Once a Week.
Go vegan one day a week, and not processed junk made to “taste” like meat. Proper whole foods diet type vegan. Not only will you feel great, you will train your kids to eat, and look forward to vegetables. Without meat or pasta your kids will have no option but to eat their veggies. Eating vegan once a week meant our kids got a plate full of fruit and veggies for every meal. If they were hungry, there was simply no other option but to eat their vegetables. It’s funny how good food tastes when you’re hungry, even if you don’t especially like it. Now our kids are more excited about veggie tacos than regular ones.
4. Expand on vegetable they like.
Did you know broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts all come from the same ancient plant? It’s true. Different cultures cultivated it in different ways, and today we have five vegetables all from the same ancestor. Here’s the thing, though, they all taste similar. That makes sense right? When we found out our kids started to like broccoli, we introduced cauliflower, then kale and brussel sprouts. Over time they liked them as much as, and in some cases more, than broccoli. Instead of one vegetable option for dinner we now had five. Many squashes are similar in flavor and texture; so are different breeds of tomato, greens, and peppers. By introducing families of vegetables once your kids like one species, build up a cornucopia of vegetables your kids will eat without much fuss over the next new addition to the entourage.
5. Don’t Stop.
Many people simply stop too soon in their vegetable eating endeavors. It takes time for a pallet to change, for the family dinner culture to change, for anything to change. Nothing happens overnight. You need a plan and a way to stick with the plan. Keep serving vegetables even if your kids don’t eat them. Make them taste a veggie every night, but don’t force them to eat all of them if they say they don’t like it. Be creative with the way you serve your vegetables. (We got our kids to like spinach by serving it with strawberries, then slowly removed the strawberries.) If you keep at it, you will see in a few weeks your kids eating their veggies regularly.
Bonus. Eat Vegetables Yourself.
Kids are natural mimics. If you’re not eating vegetables, neither will they. If you want them to eat vegetables, you need to as well. And not just for dinner. Having them see you snack on vegetables, packing them for lunch on your way to work, and even sneaking some into your omelet at breakfast, will teach them veggie are something they should want. Kids naturally do what their parents do. If you love vegetables and eat them regularly, eventually your kids will too.
These tricks got us to move our kids off of the processed diet and excited eating about vegetables. They take some time and patience, but any kid can be trained to love vegetables, no matter how picky an eater they may be. Of course there will be some vegetables your kids simply will not like, that’s ok. Tastes vary from person to person. Eggplant has been a non-starter in our house for over a year. My wife can’t stand cilantro. The goal isn’t to get your kids to like everything, but to like enough things that they have a healthy, balanced diet.
What tricks have you learned to get your kids to eat their vegetables?