How to Get your Kids to Eat Veggies
As parents we work hard to prepare balanced, nutritious meals, only to watch the vegetables sit alone on the plate after everyone has finished eating. Which leaves us all asking, how can I get my kids to eat veggies? The tips below are suggestions to get you started. Each action item in this post is something you can apply to your routine today.
Don’t be discouraged if they don’t work right away. We know that what works for some kids won’t work for others. We also know that not everything works for every person all the time. In an effort to address that reality, this post offers multiple suggestions we have collected over the years, in hopes that some will work for your family.
If at first they don’t like it, try, try again…
Research suggests that kids need to be exposed to foods multiple times before they might eat veggies and probably even more before they will enjoy them. Don’t give up and don’t take it personally (easier said than done, I know). Even if you take a break and try other foods, reintroduce it later. Continuing to expose them to the food, will be the key to seeing if they will eventually enjoy it. If they wouldn’t eat it in the past, start with small portions, or prepare it differently, but keep adding it to your meals.
Keep everything separate
Although it seems like it’s best to mix everything together, a child might feel more comfortable if they can see what they are eating. Depending on the personal preference of the kid, they might want to have the ingredients of the meal separated out on the plate. I would have thought only my kids were that way, but it seems common enough that it’s worth a try. Ask them how they want the food on their plates. The latest in our house is noodles plain and the sauce on the side… they will eat both just not always together.
Present the food multiple ways
In some cases, it might not be the food itself, but how it’s prepared. For example, a child might love raw tomatoes, but they won’t eat it if it’s presented another way. Try offering your kid two types of veggies to eat at every meal, so they get to choose. It’s a great way to accommodate different preferences with siblings too. This provides a way “to be picky” and choose one element out of their meal, while still eating veggies.
Texture and smell are important factors when enjoying food, and those will change depending on the method of cooking. When you test each method try other ways you can enhance the flavor. Sauté or stir frying with oil or butter can add healthy fats and adds to the taste. Onions can taste very different depending on how long you sauté them. You can experiment with the various cooking times. My kids love them, once they are slightly browned and almost sweet, so I sauté them a bit longer.
It can also be helpful to get kids to eat veggies if you try different consistencies. Steam, cook, sauté or roast for shorter or longer periods to see if the kids prefer crunchy or softer version. A friends kid told me the other day: “I only like crunchy carrots”, while my kids are often “lazy” when it comes to chewing, so I will keep them on the heat longer. It reduces the nutrients a little more, but if that’s the way to get them to eat and like veggies, it will serve them better in the long run.
Roasting is one method of preparation that has been a complete game-changer for me and our family. It is an easy, non-messy way to prepare vegetables and it really brings out their sweetness. Add oil and salt while roasting and create an even more interesting flavor profile. The children (and adults) will love it!
Eat what you want them to eat
Our kids learn so much by observing what we do. One way to encourage them to try vegetables is if they see you eating vegetables. If they’re on your plate, they will eventually want to try them. You can enjoy the food together and talk about how it tastes. If they don’t like it, that’s ok. Praise them for trying something new and then allow them to see you enjoying it. Lead the way by including vegetables on your plate and eventually they will follow.
Don’t be shy when it comes to spices
Avoid salt during the first year a child’s life. Be cautious with salt in general, but remember, kids appreciate flavorful food as much as anyone. Don’t worry about using “a lot of salt”. It is almost impossible to use as much salt in home cooking as is used in processed food. Salt is just one way to season. There are other wonderful ways to create flavor so that the kids will eat their veggies.
- Broth: Not only delicious but offers additional nutrition as well, especially if you make your own stock or bone broth.
- Garlic: Healthy on its own and actually well-liked by many people – and kids are people 😉. Sometimes they don’t like the texture of garlic pieces, in that case, try garlic powder.
- Dried and fresh herbs: Some kids might like the additional flavor, but don’t want to “see green stuff”. Grind down the dried herbs or herb salts. Others might like the idea of “eating leaves” and eat whole fresh basil, mint, oregano leaves off the stem.
- Use fat: The French know it very well, butter makes every meal better. But especially, if you are using healthy plant-based fats like olive, canola, nut or seed oils there is no harm in adding more when sautéing or roasting.
Start with veggies when they are hungry
Try serving veggies separately as their own dish when kids are hungry and waiting for dinner to be ready. Cut up a few cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and carrots or prepare a salad. Say that you are doing a “fancy” dinner with an appetizer. Also, breakfast is a great option for incorporating vegetables when they are hungry in the morning. They might enjoy some baby carrots while waiting for their meal. It’s not what we regularly think of for breakfast, but you might find that the kid’s love it.
Let them help
When children are helping, they naturally will become curious about tasting what they are preparing (especially if they are hungry). Start by asking them to peel the carrots. They will probably eat as they go and there might not be any left for the meal. If they are too young for tools that are sharp, perhaps they can wash the vegetables.
Get them invested by growing their food. My hydroponic mint has a hard them growing, since my son picks new sprouting leaves immediately. It’s fun, an activity you can share with them and keeps them involved in the process.
Hide the vegetables
In some cases, it might take longer for children to enjoy what you are serving. You may want them to have those nutrients in the meantime. Another helpful trick is to start incorporating the flavors early on. A classic recommendation for baby food is to add apple sauce to pureed red meat. This helps the body extract the iron (better). Onions, do the job too and get the kids experiencing a more “vegetable flavor” early on than a “fruit/sweet flavor”.
Vegetable pastas as well as the sauces that go over them will provide a lot of veggies and nutrients. Soup is a great way to get kids to eat their veggies. If you are making a cheese sauce, try blending in some squash or add some broccoli rice to a tomato-based sauce. Smoothies are another great way to add some additional veg. Try sprouts, spinach or other mild vegetables in with their favorite smoothie and watch them enjoy!
Make fries out of the vegetable. This makes it seem like something else, rather than hiding it, but it does the trick. This is a “cheat” that really helps with my kids. Cut them in fry size shape, mix with salt and oil and roast on a baking sheet. Just like with fries, many foods taste better with ketchup and other “digestion helpers”. My kids love to dip everything into sour cream and hummus (sometimes) as well as cheese 😋. Remember things will work sometimes and other times they won’t. If you have to hide or disguise the food every once in a while, so they eat it, it’s worth it!
If they like it, make it again
During a meal if you realize the kids eat a veggie variety, that is worth celebrating and great information. Try to find others with a similar flavor profile. For example, if they seem to enjoy onions, try cooking with scallions or shallots. Repeat what they enjoy.
This collection of tips and tricks is meant to provide a new approach or to revisit one you have tried in the past. Small changes, over and over add up to big results. Try some, or all and see which work for your family. Even a few of these tips can expose your kids to a variety of different foods prepared in a variety of ways. Eventually they will find foods they enjoy. It might feel discouraging at times, but change it up- don’t give up. Over time you will have eaten some delicious food, explored new tastes, and added a lot of nutrition to your family’s menu.
If you have tried everything and you still wonder how to get your kids to eat their veggies, let this guy talk them into eating them.
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