Are you having trouble trying to get your child to eat vegetables? Well, you are not alone! It is one of the most common complaints I hear from parents who come to see me for help with their picky eaters. Parents often resort to hiding vegetables in their child’s food, and while this certainly doesn’t hurt, it should not be the only way you can get your child to eat them. Teaching your child to become open to trying new foods, including vegetables, is key, because you will not be able to sneak them into their meals forever.
Here are some tips that may help:
1. Have fun with your food: Kids love to play with their food and I encourage them to do this. It is a way for them to explore and learn and helps them to become more comfortable with new foods before putting them into their mouths. Kids also love foods they can roll up, so wraps, burritos, sushi rolls and such are great. Put out a variety of fillings and let them pick what they want to put inside. Cutting food into fun shapes is always a big hit. Bottom line is, if the food on your child’s plate looks appealing to them, they will be more likely to eat it.
2. Offer choices: If you ask your child if they would like some vegetables with their meal, there is a good chance they will say NO. Instead, give them a choice, as kids love to feel like they are making the decisions. Ask your child if they would like carrots or broccoli? At first, you can make one of the options something you know they like, but then branch out from there. It is also a great idea to take your child with you to the grocery store or farmers’ market and let them pick out their own vegetables.
3. Make your vegetables taste good: The way in which a vegetable is prepared can have a huge impact on its taste, texture and visual appeal. I find that the tastiest ways to prepare vegetables are either roasting or sautéing them. Adding fresh herbs or garlic is also a great way to enhance their flavour. Get creative and experiment with new recipes.
4. Show your child where their vegetables come from: Taking you child to the supermarket with you is great, but this in not where food really comes from. Take your child to a farm or a vegetable garden – or even better – grow your own vegetables. Kids love watching the plants grow, digging up potatoes, pulling carrots out of the ground and really just getting their hands dirty! Getting involved in this way will get them really excited about vegetables and they will look at them in a whole new way.
5. Hire your child as a sous-chef: Get your child involved in preparing their meals and snacks. It will not only help them to become more independent as they get older, but it will give them a sense of accomplishment and they will take some ownership over what has been prepared. This will increase the likelihood of them actually tasting the finished product.
6. Set an example: Children will often imitate our behaviour. You cannot expect your kids to want to eat their vegetables if you are not willing to do the same. So make sure to include a healthy portion of veggies on your plate and lead by example!
Remember – you likely did not enjoy eating leafy greens when you were a kid either, so don’t set your expectations too high. It can often take 10 or more experiences with a new food before a child will actually eat it. Keep offering new foods, even if they are rejected at first, and be patient. It’s great to encourage your child to eat more vegetables, but you don’t want it to turn into a battle.
Aviva Allen is a Toronto nutritionist specializing in prenatal, infant and child nutrition. Visit www.avivaallen.com for more information or to check out her healthy, kid-friendly recipes.