Here are Dr. Barb’s 10 tips for encouraging your kids to eat more veggies.
1. “Let me choose.”
Allow your kids to choose the vegetables they want for dinner. Research shows that when kids are given the opportunity to choose their vegetables, they will eat as much as 80% more. If you get in a rut, eating the same old vegetable every night, see the other tips below to try to increase the choices your kids suggest.
2. “If you want me to eat them, you’ve got to fix ‘em the way I like them.”
Many vegetables are bitter to kids (and adults). It may be the flavonoids and minerals naturally present in vegetables that give them a bitter taste (but are also responsible for their health-promoting abilities). Try kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, bok choy, collard greens, and other bitter veggies with a sauce or a healthy fat. The fat sometimes helps to counteract the bitter flavor.
3. “Try, try, and try again.”
You’ve probably already heard this, but it bears repeating. You have to expose your child to a new vegetable many, many times (as many as 12 to 15 times) before they’ll eat it. Don’t make a fuss. Just put the vegetable on their plate and encourage them to take one bite. Be patient.
4. “What if I prefer canned, frozen or juice instead of fresh?”
All forms of vegetables count toward the total amount of veggies needed for a day. How much should kids eat? 1-1/2 cups for boys or girls 4 to 8; 2 cups for girls 9 to 13; 2-1/2 cups for boys 9 to 13 and girls 14 to 18; and 3 cups for boys 14 to 18. Fresh, frozen, canned, or 100% juice – they all count. Your kid may prefer raw spinach over cooked or cooked broccoli over raw. Try veggies in different forms. It’s best to rinse canned veggies to reduce the sodium as much as 40% and to limit juice to 8 ounces a day.
5. “Let me help.”
Allow your kids to help with age-appropriate veggie prep. Whether it’s peeling carrots, washing lettuce, or mixing ingredients together for a salad, little hands can help. As they get more involved with the food, their interest in it increases and, hopefully, their desire to try it or eat it.
6. “If I grow it, I might eat it.”
Start a vegetable garden or grow just a few seeds in pots or take your children to a community garden so they can see how vegetables grow. I’ve seen numerous kids involved in a school gardens that want to eat the arugula, sweet turnips, or radishes that they helped to grow and harvest.
7. “Make it fun!”
Get creative. Make food into different shapes or make a face out of several. For example, make your own potato head on a plate by topping a baked potato (or sweet potato) with broccoli or cauliflower florets for hair, sliced olives for eyes, halved cherry tomatoes for cheeks, and a green bell pepper mouth. Or, stand broccoli trees in a mound of mashed potatoes.
8. “Make it easier to eat more veggies.”
Keep washed, peeled, and trimmed veggies within easy reach when your child opens the refrigerator door. Or, keep cherry tomatoes on the counter. Serve with dips, hummus or peanut butter.
9. “Let me see you eat it.”
Parents and caregivers need to set a good example by eating their vegetables, too. Ninety percent of us do not eat the recommended amount of veggies each day, so most of us need to make a concerted effort to do a better job. If kids see you eating vegetables with every meal, you’ll be setting a good role model for them.
10. “Pair it with something I like.”
Sometimes it works to pair a familiar food that your children already like with a new, unfamiliar food. For example, if putting together a vegetable tray, include some sliced bell pepper or jicama or something new with favorites, such as carrots and celery. Peer pressure also works. If you have one of your kid’s friends over and they eat a certain vegetable, you own kid may feel the need to at least try the new food.