Getting kids to eat their vegetables is something many parents struggle with. If you tell them it’s healthy or good for them, they simply respond that it’s yucky, often without even trying it. However, there are a variety of things parents can try to ensure kids get a healthy portion of vegetables in their diet.
First off, let’s take a common kid favorite, pizza. We all know pizza has tomato sauce in it, but other than the sauce, kids generally won’t eat it if they see things like mushrooms on the pizza in plain sight. You might be able to cover them up with the cheese, but whenever the kid finds them, they’ll pick them off and refuse to eat them. However, I’ve heard of some creative things you can do with pizza to make it healthier. For example Deborah Harroun of Taste and Tell suggests adding a pureed vegetable sauce to your pizza to give it that little extra burst of nutrition. She specifically mentions a tomato and carrot blend, which makes the pizza just a little bit healthier, and still something kids will love. In addition, one of my former college professors said that she found a recipe for squash dough, similar to this one, which she was able to use for her daughter who went through a stage where she would eat nothing but pizza. She had to be sneaky because if her daughter saw the squash, she wouldn’t eat it, but once it was cooked into the crust, she couldn’t tell the difference. I am not a fan or an advocate for being sneaky with your children, as in general I find it to be rude and disrespectful. However, if it is the only way and as a last resort, if that’s what it takes to ensure good nutrition, then do what you need to.
There are also Veggie Crisps which are dried vegetables that make a great healthy snack. They’re not as good as fresh vegetables, but kids might just find they like them and it’s another way to get them to eat well. I have not personally tried the vegetable flavored ones, but the fruit crisps which are similar taste pretty good.
Another way to get kids to eat their veggies is to cook them into tasty treats like zucchini bread. It’s like banana bread, but made with zucchini instead. My ex husband’s sister made really delicious zucchini bread, and I do not like zucchini, but I hardly even noticed it was there. As long as you don’t overdo the zucchini, it’ll taste very similar to banana bread. Try out this recipe for Mom’s Zucchini Bread from AllRecipes.com.
Another fun idea might be to create a smiley face from vegetables. The Christmas song ‘Frosty the Snowman’ is pretty popular, and it mentions the corn cob pipe, but we can expand upon that even further. Try a carrot nose, maybe some beans for eyes, and depending on the expression you want the face to have, there are many options for the mouth. Even if you don’t have several different types of vegetables, many young children will think it’s cool if you just line them up in the shape, so let’s say all you have is corn, you can still make the pieces into a smiley face. We all know you’re not supposed to play with your food, but if you make vegetables fun, kids might be more likely to want to eat them.
If being creative with vegetables isn’t your cup of tea or doesn’t work for your kids, you could try a reward system, although you would need to slowly ween your kids off of this, but it might work at least temporarily. You should never force feed any food to your kids, or they will never eat them on their own, and force feeding should not be necessary anyway. One of my friends was force fed a few foods as a kid, and now he won’t eat any of them because of the bad experience. A reward system will extrinsically motivate kids and encourage them to eat their vegetables, but you should find a way to gradually switch to an intrinsic motivator. For more on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, refer to this post on how to avoid spoiling your child, as you do not want them to become dependent on reward systems.
Finally, and I put this at the end mainly because while it is extremely important to parents, it is typically less important to kids, but you should always talk to your kids about why it is important to eat their vegetables. Don’t just tell them they’ll grow big and strong, and don’t compare them to fictional characters like Popeye, who eats a lot of spinach. You can use those as references but since they are fictional, they should be used sparingly. Give kids facts, in terms they can understand. Tell them about malnutrition and how if they don’t get enough of the right foods, they won’t have the energy to run around and play or other similar things. If you have family members who have struggled with malnutrition issues, use them as examples. If it’s not too hard for the person, allow the child to ask them questions about how it makes them feel when they don’t eat right. Having a real person to use as a frame of reference is far more effective than fictional characters they can’t really talk to, and brings the reality aspect into the equation too. In addition, it will hit a lot closer to home if they personally know someone who is affected by malnutrition.
Above all, be honest with your kids. Don’t tell them they’re going to shrivel up and wither away, because that’s not likely to happen, at least not on that scale, and if it does it’ll be over an extended period of time. However do tell them they may encounter health issues and their body will not be at its most efficient. If they play sports or similar physical activities, stress to them that eating vegetables will keep them in good shape so they can perform well. Do not force them to eat vegetables they do not like. Try to find vegetables they do like, or try cooking them into things so they don’t taste them. Teach kids to make good decisions on what foods they should and should not eat and empower them to make good choices.
How do your kids respond to veggies? Have you ever tried any of these ideas? What about ideas of your own? Has something different worked for you? I’d love to hear what other people have done to encourage their children to eat their veggies.
Note: I have not been compensated, financially or otherwise, for any of the comments or links in this post. All of them are personally researched to support my thoughts on this topic and I will receive nothing if you choose to visit them. I am hopeful that the ideas in this post will help other parents to find creative ways to get their kids to eat their vegetables, and I’d love to hear if this article has helped you out.
All images courtesy of wikimedia.org.