Vegetables are healthy, we already know this, but our kids don’t necessarily understand this. This is why it can sometimes be an uphill battle to get them to willingly consume fruits and vegetables regularly.
But, not all plants were created equal!
When people think about encouraging children to consume more plant-based food, they automatically assume that fruits and vegetables are of equal importance to the body. While your kids definitely need both to maintain healthy bodies, the body’s need for vegetables far surpasses its need for fruit. You don’t need nearly half as many apples as you do broccoli. So in this article, I’m going to focus more on how to sneakily get the kids eating more vegetables, and if need be, consuming a little more fruit as well. Now how do you go about this? I’ll admit, I’ve tried a few methods over the years, and a few have worked to varying degrees. Of those that have yielded positive results, the following have been the most successful in my opinion for my family and I.
1. Normalize it
Humans pick up habits by being exposed to things, and picking up the habit of eating vegetables is no different. The more kids see vegetables and fruits, the more they normalize the idea of having them at the dinner table, having them on their plates, and generally having them as part of their diet. It follows that they’re less likely to think eating vegetables is gross, if they see everyone around them doing it, which is why it’s also important for your kids to see you eating vegetables. Impressionable youngsters repeat action simply because they are done by someone older, and eating healthy is no exception. If you do it, they’re going to do it too.
2. Don’t give up easily
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. Don’t give up on your little ones the minute they tell you they don’t want to eat a certain fruit or vegetable. Present them with the same food over and over and over again and eventually they’ll be inclined to give it a try. Few children will actually taste a certain vegetable the first time it’s given to them, let alone like it enough to keep eating it. And the same is true for adults as well, we’re less inclined to like something if it still tastes foreign to us. The trick to fighting against this, is to keep trying the food until you get used to the taste. Maybe it will be on the thirtieth try that your little one finally gives eggplant a bite. and they most likely won’t like it, but maybe it will be after trying it six more times that the taste begins to grow on them and they start to tolerate or maybe even enjoy the taste of it. My point is this, don’t be so quick to give up on certain food items simply because your child expressed dislike for them or refused to try them a few times. It takes a long time and ‘practice’ to build a habit, but you will get there.
3. Dangle a carrot in front of them
This one is more of a bait trick, you start them off on something more palatable and eventually build up to the less ‘tasty’ vegetables. Fruits are naturally sweeter than vegetables, so you stand a better chance of success by starting your kids off on fruits as a regular part of their diet. They can enjoy them as snacks, dessert or as integral parts of breakfast. Once they get into the habit of eating fruits, you can slowly start replacing some fruits with vegetables, or mixing the two in dishes until the idea of vegetables too is no longer foreign. The important thing to remember here though is that too much fruit is actually bad for your little one’s health. The main sugar in fruit, fructose, is difficult to digest and absorb in large quantities and this can lead to negative effects such as bloating, irritable bowel syndrome and result in sugar cravings. I can also lead to unnecessary weight gain, sugars are sugars after all.
4. Encourage a positive attitude towards food
It’s important for your children to have a genuine appreciation of food. Not just fruits and vegetables, everything that is put before them to eat. There must be respect and appreciation towards the person who has put in the time and effort to prepare their meal. It’s also very important for them to understand that food is not a toy, and eating is not a hobby. When children understand the importance of food and different types of food (in this case vegetables and fruit) they are more likely to be more thoughtful before they reject certain food items. If they understand the importance of vegetables in their diet for their body, then they’ll think twice before pushing them aside on their plates. If they are active in sport, let them know about the importance of fruits and vegetables for the immune system. It sounds like subtle blackmail but it works.
5. Teach the farm to table approach
Educating children about where their fruits and veggies comes from will not only improve their general understanding (which is never a bad thing) but it will also make them more likely to eat the fresh produce presented to them out of sheer curiosity and appreciation. Go through botany books with them, take them on farm tours or better still create a garden. Okay, maybe gardens aren’t for everyone, what with the space they take up and all. Perhaps a windowsill herb garden would be better suited to your living arrangements. Anyway, after having grown their own vegetables or fruit or herbs, they’re more likely to eat them. Everyone wants to taste the literal fruits of their labour.
6. They’ll eat it if they cooked it
As a follow up on the fruits of their labour point, if they had to put in time and effort into preparing their fruits and vegetables either for a meal or a snacks, chances are they’re going to want to eat those fruits and vegetables. Get them involved in prepping the vegetables or cooking them, cultivating a sense of responsibility and pride in their work. The cooking or prepping process becomes the challenge and eating the fruits and vegetables becomes the reward.
7. Get creative with presentation
We eat with our eyes, we are visual creatures. If it looks good, chances are your kids will eat it. Sometimes the easiest way to get a child interested in eating something is to present it to them in a fun and creative way. Instead of giving them whole fruits you could cut them into little shapes or instead of plopping a bowl of vegetables in front of them, you could serve them on a skewer. Instead of having one colour of vegetable on the side of the plate, you could try using different vegetables to create a variety of colours just to make it look more interesting.
8. Conceal them
And if all else fails, employing some good old subterfuge always gets the job done. Add in a few extra vegetables in certain recipes, or substitute vegetables for meat in other recipes. Be sneaky about it, hide them in ways that they can’t immediately tell by looking at the food. Of course, it always helps if you can make the food taste great as well, the more the kids associate the vegetables with a good taste, the more they’ll want to eat them. You can let them know after they’ve eaten their disguised meal that they were actually extra vegetables or substituted vegetables in their food. It’ll reinforce the idea that vegetables don’t taste bad, and if you’ve achieved that, you’ve won half the race.
Basically, there’s no super-easy way of doing it, and some methods work better on some children than others. The most important thing is that you try because the value of vegetables and fruits to the health of your children is immeasurable. It’s okay to coerce them a little, to use a few tricks to get them eating healthy. And if you use a whole lot of the tips above, at least one is bound to work for you.