Scary stuff, considering just how important these nutrient-dense foods are for growing bodies. In the short-term, increasing fruit and veggie consumption is associated with benefits like improving mood, concentration, energy, and academic performance. Long-term, bumping up intake has benefits like boosting the immune system and decreasing the risk of developing cardiometabolic diseases and even some cancers in children.
So how do you get your kids to eat more vegetables? It’s easier than you might think—just try these five simple strategies:
1. Be Persistent
Some kids have to try a new food as many as 10 times before they accept it—and another 10 times before they decide they like it. So, If your child rejects a veggie, keep trying!
And if you feel like you’ve offered a veggie several times and your little one is still not taking the bait, keep in mind that there are countless ways to prepare veggies. You can roast them, mash them, steam them, bake them, or enjoy them raw. So, if your little ones reject raw broccoli, try roasting it. Sprinkle it with black pepper or melt a little low-fat cheddar cheese over it. If they won’t eat roasted sweet potato, boil it, and mash it instead. It could be that it’s the texture and not the taste that’s turning your child off to a specific veggie.
2. Make it Fun
Start a “Veggie of the Week” routine by bringing your little one to the grocery store with you and letting him or her select one veggie to try. Then go home and help them prepare a snack or meal using their selection. If they’re old enough, ask them to help you find a good recipe for the veggie. Veggie burgers, cauliflower crust pizzas, zucchini bread, carrot cake muffins, broccoli cheddar cups or omelet muffins are all great options for little helpers. Make finger sandwiches together, replacing the bread with cucumbers, or whip up a delicious dip like hummus together. If your kids love chips, try making kale chips. If they’re all about fries, make your own sweet potato fries.
And don’t forget—Sometimes, it’s all about presentation. You might be surprised how fast food goes when it’s shaped like a smiley face or a rainbow.
3. Involve Them in the Prep
Give your littles a job—ask them to place the veggie toppings on the pizza, carefully drop the veggies into the slow cooker, toss the salad, or husk the corn. There are plenty of jobs for little hands, from set up to seasoning to clean up. And involving your kids in meal preparation is a great way to pique their interest in the food itself.
4. Eat Together
Eat as a family whenever possible. Research shows that kids eat more vegetables and fruits and less fried foods and sugary drinks when they eat with the entire family.
Plus, eating with your kids is a great opportunity for you to model healthy eating behaviors for them. If they see you enjoying a big bowl of salad or slurping down seconds of veggie soup, they may be more inclined to do the same.
5. Sneak in Neutral Veggies
If getting your little one to warm up to the wonderful world of veggies is taking a bit longer than you’d like, you can ensure they’re getting enough in the meantime by sneaking veggies into meals you know they like. For instance, add spinach or mixed greens to fruit smoothies—the sweet fruit will mask the flavor. Blend up peppers, steamed broccoli, or carrots, and mix it with pizza and pasta sauces. Speaking of pasta: Try combining spaghetti with zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash. If you’re serving a dish with rice, replace half with cauliflower rice. Cauliflower rice is so neutral, you can add it to almost anything—add it to oatmeal or sneak it into pancake batter.
Just keep in mind that sneaking veggies into your kids’ meals doesn’t teach them about all the great benefits and great taste of these foods, nor does it cultivate an acceptance or interest in them. So, use this technique only as an insurance policy that they’re getting what they need while you work on the other strategies.