Written by Julie Paiva, CHHC
Most parents know, fruit and vegetable intake during childhood not only helps support healthy growth and immunity, but it also fosters a preference for whole foods that continues into adulthood. So early and frequent exposure to fruits and vegetables helps support health for kids in the present and future. However, studies show most parents only offer their child a new food three to five times before they give up when their child doesn’t like the food. These same studies showed that a child may need to try a food up to 15 times before developing a taste for it.
So if your child isn’t listing off veggies as their top choice when asked what they want for dinner, here are a few tricks that you can keep in mind that will encourage kids to eat up their fruits and vegetables. Remember being persistent and consistent will help your kiddo begin to like whole foods.
Get Them in the Kitchen
Did you love to play “house” as a kid? What would be more fun than actually partaking in real cooking? Kids love to feel included in activities, and hands-on participation will help them enjoy what they’re doing and encourage a greater interest in the future. When kids participate in the preparation of a meal, they will naturally want to eat their creations, green veggies and all.
Make Cooking and Eating Fun and Playful
Play a game of trivia or create a song or dance using a green veggie theme. Come up with a series of fun trivia questions. For example, how many colors do peppers come in? What sizes do tomatoes come in? This will not only make kids engaged in the kitchen it will also make them feel excited to show off their brainy skills. This way you’ll make your time together educational. Depending on their age, you can even explain the nutritional benefits of a food. That way they’ll understand why it’s part of the meal and be more willing to eat it up. If you have a superhero fan in your house, you can also treat green veggies as superheroes. Give your kids a list of superfood superpowers that will make them want to dig in.
Make It a Dip
Kids love foods that are fun to eat and can be eaten with their hands. Dips are a perfect way to sneak in a few extra greens. Hummus, guacamole, homemade salad dressings, pesto, and salsas are simple examples of dips that lend themselves well to the addition of green veggies. These snacks can be a great introduction to the taste of various vegetables.
You can even cut the veggies into fun shapes and sizes to make figures, such as a broccoli head for a veggie character. Kids are visual, so it’s a great way to encourage them to get excited to fill their plates with veggies. Give them different vegetables and fruits of varied shapes, sizes and colors and let them create a picture on their plate before eating their tasty work of art.
Blend Them in Smoothies
Green smoothies can sometimes create hesitation, but if veggies are blended with a few bright fruits, they can be pretty delicious. The kids will drink up smoothies and realize that they can’t even taste the green veggies inside. This may make them more likely to try the vegetables outside of the smoothie.
If your child is being stubborn and on a no veggie campaign, you don’t have to mention those greens. They won’t realize that they are in there.
Hide Them in Comfort Foods
What child would think that a burger or meatloaf has vegetables inside? Toss some chopped up greens and add them into meal mixtures.
Kids love fries. Why not make veggie fries at home? You don’t actually have to “fry” them, bake them instead. Make baked fries with asparagus, zucchini, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, beets or green beans. Pair them with a tasty dipping sauce, like creamed broccoli, Greek yogurt, mashed avocado or some of the dips mentioned above.
When it comes to encouraging kids to eat more greens, don’t be discouraged if they don’t take to them right away. It may take many tries before kids are willing to try something new and even more tries before they admit to liking vegetables. The good news is that the more exposed they are to nutritious foods, the more they’ll gravitate toward them for a lifetime. Try to make the process fun and engaging! So get your aprons on, and have some fun together in the kitchen!