“My child won’t eat vegetables.” Has this ever come out of your mouth? It’s a serious struggle to figure out how to get kids to eat vegetables when they are constantly bombarded with sweet, processed snacks. So how do you conquer the processed food culture and raise kids who will eat vegetables for life?
Before diving into my tips and tricks, let me share a brief backstory. My name is Emily, and I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes as a 33-year-old with a 1 and 3-year-old at home. Through a ton of research, I radically changed my diet to a vegetable-heavy Paleo diet. But…the vegetables! How would I get my kids to eat all those vegetables? At that time, we were only eating 1 serving per person, per day. Max! I am not into making multiple meals for dinner, so my boys needed to adjust (spoiler: they did!l). So if you’re starting at ground zero, so was I!
Let’s dive into my 6 simple, unconventional strategies for how to get kids to eat vegetables.
Grocery Shop with Your Kids
First up, take your kids to the grocery store with you. Oh my, I had to pull that one out first, didn’t I? It isn’t easy to take your kids to the grocery store and definitely not convenient for you. Yes, it will take longer and you will likely be sweaty by the time you are finished. However, the grocery store is where the education about vegetables and involving your kids in the food you eat begins.
As you walk down the aisles with your list in hand, begin the conversation about which vegetables you are picking and why. Take the time to tell your kids the names of the vegetables you are picking out, show them how to tell what’s ripe, and describe how you plan to prepare them. Whet their appetite for the veggies from the time you pick it up off the shelf!
Guess what I’m going to make from these beautiful sweet potatoes??? Your favorite: sweet potato fries! Should we have them tonight for dinner??
Let Them Choose New Vegetables
In very little time, your kids will become used to picking out vegetables in the produce department. They may even get really into it, like my kids, and ask to pick out their own vegetables. Lately, my oldest has gotten in the habit of finding a vegetable he doesn’t recognize and asking if we may buy it.
Raise your hands to the heavens and sing for joy then SAY YES EVERY TIME!!!
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what it is or how to prepare it (I’m stumped too sometimes!). The world wide web can help you out with that later. Buy it, cook it, and then talk it up like crazy when you serve it.
This is the Chayote squash that Jackson picked out for us! It’s a tart, crunchy squash that is going to go perfectly with our Mexican carnitas. Thank you for picking this out for dinner, Jackson!!
Let Them Help Prepare Meals
Here’s another hard suggestion for you as a parent, let your kids help you cook in the kitchen. Little hands helping in the kitchen make for longer cook times and more clean-up. BUT how will your children know how to enjoy and cook real food unless we take the time to teach them? Demystify vegetables by encouraging their help in the kitchen.
To make this easier, find a job that is appropriate for their age level. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Stirring the pot while the adult adds vegetables
- Chopping soft vegetables or fruit with a butter knife or kid-safe knife
- Playing with the scrap vegetable pieces (Awesome for very young kids! It makes a huge mess sometimes, but they will LOVE a big bowl filled with onion papers, potato skin, apple cores, etc. to get their hands in and “cook”!)
- Sitting on the counter/stool and talking to you (Don’t underestimate the power of just watching you cook, welcome them into the kitchen!)
- Have a stool in the kitchen at all times so they can get quickly and safely to counter level
Encourage Tasting of Vegetables
If you’ve struggled with how to encourage your child to eat vegetables, try letting them taste anything and everything. This goes along with saying “yes” to new vegetables in the grocery store, if you are preparing the vegetables at home and your kids want to taste it, let them! Prepare them for what they are about to eat in a positive, true light, but let them taste away!
This is daikon radish. It is crunchy with a peppery flavor.
Here’s a piece of sweet potato. It’s going to be crunchy because it isn’t cooked, but it’s perfectly fine to eat!
Give them an appropriate sized portion for the vegetable and their palette. Chop a very small piece for jalapenos, but hand them a whole stick of carrot. Then hand it off with joy and praise them for tasting it.
Assume They Will Like It
What you say and how you say it when presenting kids with new food makes all the difference in the world. From the moment they begin eating table food, present new food positively.
Never say, “She won’t eat this. You won’t like this. This feels funny in your mouth.” Negative words like that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you tell them they won’t eat it, guess what happens? They won’t eat it, even young kids. They are always listening to what you say!
Try something like this instead:
Today we’ve got stuffed acorn squash for dinner! It has your favorite meat inside, sausage! You know what’s great about this meal? You can eat the bowl!
Positivity is so important! Tell them truthful facts about the vegetable, if you feel the need to prepare them for texture or flavor but pair them with positive statements. Assume they will like it and that they will want more. Eat yours happily and comment on how good it is.
Serve Fruit as Dessert
A major part of getting kids to enjoy vegetables is to rid their palette of sugar and processed food. The ability to taste the sweetness in vegetables (yes, many are sweet!) is not over saturating our tongues with sugar constantly.
Try serving fruit as dessert, once the kids have eaten their vegetables and meat. It will be doubly sweet to them after the vegetables and just might provide a good incentive to finish up a less than desirable dinner.
If you want your kids to eat more vegetables and become lifelong vegetable eaters, then it all starts at the grocery store and hinges on your positivity. Involve them in the process from choosing vegetables, cutting them at home, tasting them as you cook, and assisting in cooking. Exposure and positivity, that’s what it’s all about! While there will be days your kids refuse to eat what you make, do not give up hope! Start with the six strategies for how to get kids to eat vegetables, and you’ll be well on your way to raising kids who eat vegetables for life!