Try these methods for introducing more vegetables into your kid’s diet.
Everything was going along great. My son was three years old and ate anything and everything my wife or I set in front of him. Spinach? No problem, down it went. Carrots, peas, broccoli, kale; no sweat. Eggs, oatmeal, again, easy. Turn your head for a second and the plate was clean. Protein, grains, healthy fats – didn’t matter - he ate ‘em.
Then one morning he just stopped eating. Well, almost. He’d eat Mac and Cheese. He’d eat cheese pizza. He’d eat a grilled cheese sandwich. Pancakes, sometimes. And that was it.
So we started experimenting. Veggies were the key. It's not easy to hide veggies in most foods. Green pancakes were not a hit. Sprinkle anything on the Mac and Cheese and he wouldn’t eat it. You could bake the vegetables in, blend them in, smash and mash them in; no go. The kid was like a food detective. He could taste it or smell it. And of course, if he noticed anything different (which he always did), he wouldn’t eat it.
Gradually, over time, he started trying more and more foods. Although it was years of failed experiments, stress and worries. Is he getting enough nutrition for his growth? How’s this affecting his immune system? His brain development? Will he grow up healthy? (Alright, maybe we worried too much but we’re parents - lack of proper nutrition does have many negative effects on children. Good nutrition and sleep and being active, outside, are some of the key elements for a healthy, happy child).
These are some of the methods we tried. Some were extremely successful and others not so much. Give them a shot and let us know which ones work for you.
- Sorry, its monkey see, monkey do
- Mealtime is family time
- Serve veggies first
- Cooking School
- Food Festivals
- Play with your food
- Chip it
- Grow a garden
- Smoothies, green pasta, and nut butters
- Bonus Tip
Sorry, its monkey see, monkey do…
Yes, your kids are watching you and to some extent they are emulating you. Scary, right? Eating healthy has to become a family affair. It has to become a family value. If Mom and Dad are eating a healthy diet kids are much more likely to eat healthy. Studies show that when both parents are involved children are significantly more likely to eat more vegetables and fruit. And, to be clear, it really is about getting more fruits and vegetables. Take action today. Just little by little. Clear out the pantry of highly processed snack foods. Put out a fruit bowl. Eat a banana. If your kids are filling up on Goldfish, or packaged cookies, processed chips, they are less likely to eat whatever you put out for dinner. Proper nutrition is an all-day thing.
Mealtime is family time…
I know. We are all busy. But this is important. Shoot for at least one meal a day as a family. Make it a priority. Eating together, regularly, as a family, has been proven to strengthen the family bond, improve grades for kids of all ages, reduce stress for kids and adults alike, and improves emotional strength and mental health. It’s also cheaper but make sure you prepare one meal for all. Everyone eats the same thing.
Studies show that kids who eat together with their parents are more likely to try new foods. This is critical because we have a built-in mechanism that makes us all suspicious of new foods. It’s a safety thing. If I’ve eaten it before I know it is safe to eat. Plus, we all have different taste buds. So, for some of us, it may take longer to get accustomed to the taste of broccoli, or red peppers, or cauliflower. It’s critical to serve the same vegetable multiple days in a row. Each day your child will eat a little more. The taste becomes familiar and kids will naturally eat more. No need to force it. Just let it evolve.
You want some quality time as a family? The family meal is perfect. Eat together. The benefits are countless. Children are less likely to be obese, learn portion control, and as a side benefit have better table manners.
Serve veggies first…
This one is effective and easy. Serve some vegetables first. Put out a plate of raw vegetables before dinner is served. Kids are hungry and don’t have any other options for food choices. A simple plate of carrot sticks, celery sticks, bell peppers, or zucchini stick will work wonders. Match it with a healthy dip or hummus and the family will graze. Grazing means more vegetables are eaten. Any vegetable is a good vegetable.
Just keep serving vegetables. I’m not saying to make your kid sit at the table until she’s cleaned her plate. I still remember by sister sleeping at the table rather than eat a green bean. However, studies have shown serving vegetables, day after day, will increase your child’s intake of vegetables. Kids in Japan eat fermented soybean paste for breakfast. Kids in China eat Congee, a rice porridge with dried strips of meat, or tofu, or vegetables plopped in. They eat it because they see it every day and are familiar with it. Make vegetables a constant. Become familiar with vegetables. It’s a slow road. It likely won’t start off successfully but it will work. Your kids will eat more vegetables.
This one worked very well for my child. The more familiar kids become with food and the variety of foods available; the more willing they are to experiment and try new foods. A word of caution - don’t force it. Sending a kid to a cooking camp when she doesn’t want to be there will not help. Again, this is about making healthy food choices, and making fruits and vegetables commonplace, familiar, safe. Use some of the recipes from cooking camp at home. Have your child prepare the family meal. This will make your child invested in dinner. If they make, bake it, or sauté it, they will eat it.
You get it, right? More exposure to foods is good. Take a weekend and hit up a local food festival. Our favorites are the food trucks. Every city has a secret spot where food trucks congregate. Seek it out. You can get some surprisingly healthy food choices in trucks now. Many offer plant-based choices. Plan a vacation around a healthy food festival. We live in Florida so it is relatively inexpensive to go to the Disney Food and Wine Festival. It’s packed with new and exciting dishes to try. Your kids will love it. If Disney is too far away or too expensive find a local one. Or better yet, create a family food festival and have everyone make a dish themselves. It will make for a fun family weekend.
Greenmarket or Farmer’s markets count as well. You’ll see all kinds of new fruits and vegetables. Ask about the vegetables that are unknown. Ask about the best methods for preparation. Keep everyone involved.
Play with your food…
Try this with the little ones. Children are making sense of the world and when they are little that often means tearing things apart with their hands. Smashing, twisting, biting things to get a feel. This helps familiarizing children with the texture, the feel, the smell, and the taste of vegetables and fruits. Make it a game. Cut up vegetables and fruits of different colors and put them in a jumble on the plate. Try and get as many different colored foods as possible. Foods of different colors are packed with different nutrients. More colors equal a healthier diet. Have your child pick out the red vegetable or the green vegetable. Make it a learning game. And a tasting game. Again, throw in a healthy dip and the veggies will go down easily. This works just as well with fruits.
Everyone loves chips. Most vegetables and many fruits make perfect chips. Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes are traditional, but you can try these 6 for a more exotic chip: Apple, Zucchini, Beets, Carrots, Squash, and Cassava. Make them at home as a family. Try this simple recipe from our friends at Delicious meets Healthy for a great sweet potato chip.
Grow a garden…
There are many benefits to gardening. Gardens are great family projects that teach responsibility and togetherness. Check out our friends at Green America for simple tips to start and maintain a garden.
If they grow it; they will eat it.
If you don’t have the time or the space to grow a garden – try an herb garden. It’s simple and easy and will get your kids involved with growing, preparing, and eating something they’ve grown.
Smoothies, green pasta, and nut butter…
Smoothies are a sneaky way to blend and prepare a very nutritious meal quickly and easily. They work perfect as a breakfast meal. Try this recipe from our Sneakz recipe page.
You can also find lots of plant based options in your local grocers now. Everything from green pastas to cauliflower pizza crust. Give them a try. Just check the ingredient list. Make sure they are using whole food ingredients and not foods from concentrates. Watch out for the hidden sugars. These types of foods are best incorporated into a family meal plan as part of a complete, balanced meal.
I love nut butters. Mom’s have been filling celery sticks with peanut butter for years. Try different nut butter spreads. There are a ton of options and an excellent way to add protein and healthy fats to vegetables.
I love cookies. However, don’t use desserts or sweets as a reward. There is nothing wrong with a homemade cookie on occasion. Make them together. Here’s a great and healthy recipe for the next time you want to make a batch of cookies…
Enjoy them. Just don’t give them as a reward for eating your vegetables or finishing those chores. Vegetables are a reward unto themselves.
Will one of these methods work for you and your family? Hopefully, but we realize that some children have sensory issues, or gastrointestinal issue, such as gut inflammation, or severe allergy issues to combat. We do work with a lot of children with these issues and our milkshakes with ½ serving of vegetables are specifically designed for children with sensory and/or sensitive stomachs. Still nothing works for everyone. You will have fun trying them as a family. You will learn as a family. And any family time is quality time.