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Kids & Vegetables: A Parent's Guide
I'd like to get my children to eat more vegetables, but they just don't seem to like them. Do you have any good tips or advice on sneaking vegetables into their diet?
First, congratulations on recognizing the health benefits of vegetables. Consuming a wide variety of vegetables can greatly impact the health of your family. However, it's important to not force foods on your children. Doing so may actually increase your children's resistance to trying new vegetables or cause them to dislike veggies altogether. In this case, it's best to lead by example and mere exposure. In other words, let them see you eat a wide variety of vegetables every day.
Serve vegetables at both lunch and dinner meals and don't make a big fuss about whether or not they try them. It is estimated that children need to be exposed to a new food on an average of 15 times before it becomes a part of their regular diet. Your children will go through a variety of stages starting with just glancing at the new arrival. Eventually, it will be served onto their plates, tasted (possibly rejected), and finally eaten on occasion. Be patient and just let the process occur without force. Don't try to trick them by sharing a rave review about how good the vegetables taste. Just go about your business of eating your meal and eventually their curiosity will tempt them.
One way to encourage vegetable consumption in children is to actually grow your own vegetables in your garden. Kids like to take part in growing, harvesting and tasting the fruit of their hard labor - i.e., vegetables! The whole process of planting and watching fruits and vegetables grow is truly a miracle in their eyes.
Involving them in the kitchen is also a wonderful way to enhance the whole meal experience. Any meal where they can pick and choose from a variety of ingredients is always a hit in our house. For instance, my husband loves to make homemade pizza with the kids. They each get to make their own personal pizza and apply the toppings. They are always more willing to "add" ingredients to their pizza and give them a try than if I had simply made it and served it up without any of their input. This also works with building their own burritos or sandwiches. I'm always amazed at how much they actually put on their sandwiches. Provide a variety of fixings such as sliced cucumbers, avocados, spinach leaves, bell peppers, and tomatoes and watch the towering sandwich grow!
Children also like to dip finger foods. Lunch is a perfect meal to provide veggies with dip. Celery, broccoli, sweet bell peppers, jicama, and carrots dipped in ranch dressing or hummus are common favorites.
Soups, casseroles, and sauces are also a good place to add some extra vegetables. Cut up veggies in small pieces or puree them in the blender. Just don't overload the dish with them or your children may reject it simply due to the drastic change. Good luck!
Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology. She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.