Recently, the American Heart Association published “Top 10 Tips for Dealing With a Picky Eater.” We’re taking this a step further to focus on getting children to eat (and maybe even love) their vegetables. We’ve added our suggestions, in italics, as a supplement to the advice from the American Heart Association. We think after a quick read of this article, your kids will be eating their veggies in no time! (Refer to “How Many Fruits & Vegetables Do You Need?” to find out your daily needs and the daily needs of your child).
- Start by introducing vegetables into foods that your child already likes. For example, offer carrot muffins, chunks of bell pepper in a potato salad, or shredded veggies over rice. You can also add vegetable purees into baked goods, side dishes, and entrees. The Sneaky Chef is a great source for recipes that include veggie purees. We say if you’re talking to your child about the veggies included in the food your making, it’s not so sneaky and a great way to teach them how to eat and love their veggies!
- Include your kids in the prep work. By being involved in grocery shopping and food preparation, your kids will have more ‘buy-in.’ If they feel some ownership over the meal, they may be more likely to eat it. The same goes for growing a backyard or container garden. The results may take a while and require patience on the behalf of your child (and you!) but we promise it will be worth it. Kids love to try almost anything they’ve helped to grow. Wondering what to grow in your back yard? Turn to this calendar from the University of Florida Extension Services.
- Don’t buy unhealthy foods. Out of sight, out of mind. If the chips and cookies aren’t around, your kids can’t eat them. They may resist at first, but when they get hungry, they’ll start munching the carrot sticks. Keep healthy foods on hand and within reach. Create kid friendly veggie portions in snack bags and place them in an easy to reach section of your refrigerator. Your kids will be eager to serve themselves!
- Schedule snack time and stick to it. Most kids like routine. If your kids know they will only get food at certain times, they’ll eat what they get when they get it. Try to have snacks incorporate two food groups. For example, offer veggies with a Greek yogurt dip or a celery with peanut butter. Check out our Backyard Bug Snack Recipes for additional ideas.
- Have healthy finger foods available. Kids like to pick up foods, so give them foods they can handle. Veggie chunks (raw or cooked) are great finger-food options. Kids also love anything on a stick or in a funny shape. Alternate cherry tomatoes and cubes of cheese on a skewer for an immediate crowd pleaser. Turn broccoli into “trees” for a fun story time.
- Repeal the “clean your plate” rule. Kids know when they’re full, so let them stop. Overeating is one of the major reasons we get too many calories. One of our favorite “rules” is the two bit rule taken from the USDA’s Two Bite Club book. Download the book for free and read it to your kids. We’re sure that after reading it, they’ll try two bites of everything so they can be Two Bite Club members!
- Encourage kids to “eat their colors.” This game works well with younger kids. Food that’s bland in color often also lacks nutrients. Eating a variety of brightly colored foods provides more nutrients in greater variety. Veggies are their brightest and taste their best when they’re local and in season. Print out this list from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to know when to get the prettiest and tastiest vegetables on your table.
- Don’t cut out treats altogether. Think moderation. A scoop of ice cream or a serving of Oreos is all right occasionally. If you cut out all the goodies, your kids will be more likely to overeat when they do get them. Make sure to moderate the treat consumption. When you can, add veggies into your treats! We’re not kidding! Try Dark Chocolate Avocado Brownies from Produce for Kids or this Chocolate Peanut Butter Dip (shhh! it has carrots in it!).
- Veg out at the dinner table, not the TV. Eating in front of the TV is distracting, and kids may not notice that they’re full because they’re wrapped up in the show. Eating as a family is a great time to catch up and there are numerous other benefits for your child including better academic performance, higher self esteem, and greater self resiliency. Additional benefits can be found at the Family Dinner Project’s website.
- Be a good role model. The best way to influence kids is by example. Don’t expect them to eat spinach if you won’t touch it. And if you hate it, refer back to number 6 on our list, join the Two Bite Club with your children.
Are there important tips we’re missing from this list? Share them in the comments below and send us pictures of your kids eating (and possibly loving) their vegetables!