A looming question that is often on the tongue. How can parents get their children to eat their vegetables? Well, like everything else, it’s a process. There are no miracles, or magic, and it doesn’t need to be especially forceful. I’ll break it down into individual topics which have come from both research and my experience, as well as the experience of other parents I’ve spoken with. There is no particular order in which these topics should be introduced. However it’s best to include all of them throughout childhood to produce the best outcome.
- Create a positive attitude around eating vegetables
If the kids see you making faces and yelling out “gross” at the table they are much less likely to enjoy eating vegetables, or even be willing to try them. Put on the grown-up hat and be the positive example the kids need. The Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research explains the various ways parents, adults, and siblings can influence young children’s eating habits, both positive and negative.
- Keep trying!
This one is tough to stick with, but it will pay off if you do. It takes time and effort to develop a taste for vegetables, especially in their natural state. Unfortunately many parents give a vegetable once and if they receive a negative reaction they never try again, assuming the child doesn’t like it. Just about every child rearing book, infant feeding book, and research article about feeding toddlers will tell you it takes 6-10 attempts before a child may eat something willingly. Maintain your patience and use variety when preparing the veggies.
- Have kids help in the kitchen
This one comes with its own set of difficulties, especially if you have more than two children. Even though it may seem impossible at times, the kids will benefit from helping in the kitchen regularly. Choose tasks that are age appropriate and give each child a job. They can increase their fine motor skills, general cooking skills, and perhaps begin to understand some aspects of science by joining you in the kitchen. I have a 7 year old who can make me breakfast all by herself (using the stove and toaster oven). This is after years of helping me in the kitchen of course, but it’s possible and completely within reach!
- Have kids help in the garden
Over quite a few years research has shown when children grow vegetables, they are more likely to try them. Seeing where the food comes from helps children understand what real food means. When children are involved in the whole process and can see their hard work pay off they feel a sense of accomplishment. Not only that, homegrown food tastes better. Young children can help by scooping dirt, planting seeds, and watering. Older children can help with pruning, maintaining pest control (naturally), and harvesting. Go to usda.gov and search kids and gardening for an enormous list of resources.
- Create conversations around food
When kids are having trouble with math, spelling, or reading do we allow them to push it away and simply say they don’t like it? That doesn’t go over very well in our house and probably not yours either. Everybody is not going to like everything, and that’s okay. What we need to figure out is what we don’t like and how we can change it. I personally don’t like raw onions, except on rare occasions in certain recipes. However, I love cooked and caramelized onions. After sharing this information with my daughter she decided she liked the sweet taste of cooked onions too. She hasn’t picked out an onion from a meal since. When someone in the family says they don’t like something I ask what it is they don’t like. Is it too salty, sour, spicy? Then we talk about what to do to change the taste. We make it again with the changes and discuss. These discussions are best for slightly older children (6 and up), but create a deep relationship with food and how to enjoy it, even the healthy stuff.
With some planning and a little effort we can have kids eating healthy in no time. The most important things to remember are to make these learning experiences tasty and fun! I wish you all the best on your healthy eating adventures.