People always ask me how they can get their kids to eat more vegetables. Well, I wish I had a one sentence answer, “Just do (blank) and VOILA!” But it’s really not that simple. It’s more of a cumulative process that is ongoing and ever changing. At different stages in my kids’ lives I’ve resorted to different tactics. When they were babies it was easy, just give them a jar of something mashed and they were happy. As they get older things are getting more complicated. Here are a few bits of advice from House of Bedlam for parents resolved to getting their families eating healthier in the New Year:
1) Start early – As soon as your child is ready for “real” food start introducing a variety of texture, color, and tastes.
2) Get bigger slowly – Go from pureed foods, to chunky soups to cut up pieces of food. I still puree vegetables into sauces but try to keep most vegetables in plain sight. So when they eat a piece of broccoli and like it they will know what it was and want to eat it again.
3) Honesty is the best policy– When my kids were younger I would puree vegetables and hide them all the time. As they are getting older I realize how important it is that they know what’s in their food. If I puree a zucchini into their pasta sauce, I let them know about it. This is a recent tactic I’m using now that they are developing their own tastes.
4) Give them color – Make sure the food looks vibrant. Explain the nutritional benefits to your kids only if they are interested. Otherwise just tell them that eating the rainbow tastes yummy. Try to tell a toddler about Vitamin C and watch their eyes glaze over.
5) Hold the box – As tempting as it is to cut up chicken nuggets try to avoid processed foods as long as possible. The more real food your child experiences the more receptive they will be down the road to trying new foods. Save these foods as special occasion treats just like candy.
6) If at first you don’t succeed… – Don’t give up. Try cooking food in as many variations as you can think of before moving on from it. On average, it takes between 10-20 times for a child to taste something before he/she likes it.
7) Training the inner chef – As soon as your child can hold a spoon they are ready to be sous chefs. As your kids get more involved in school, sports and after-school activities it will be harder to find time, so recruit them while they’re young! Most kids love to help in the kitchen if it means they can make a mess.
8) No culinary background required– I certainly enjoy cooking for my kids (most of the time) but I am not a chef by any means. Kids like simple food. It doesn’t need to be fancy, it just needs to taste good. Start off with easy dishes as vehicles to getting your kids to try some new vegetables: in eggs, pasta sauces, or as a topping for pizza. And don’t be afraid to spice things up.
9) Don’t take it personally – I used to make elaborate meals for my kids that would either end up on the floor or in the garbage. I’ve since learned to keeps things a little less complicated and not take it too hard when they don’t eat something. Dinner has become a lot less volatile!
10) Mix the good and the not so good – One of my tried and true methods to getting my kids to eat their veggies is to add bacon or cheese. A little bacon goes a long long way! Find the one food your child loves and mix in a sprinkling of it with the new food you are introducing. It’s practically a slam dunk in our house every time.
Click here to see our recipe for Broccoli Melt, a kid-friendly favorite at our house.