Most of us want our kids to eat healthy, but when it comes to vegetables, even the best eaters are often reluctant. What is it about veggies that make our families turn up their noses? Often, the answer lies in a lack of consistency and originality. You can get your entire family begging for vegetables with dinner with a few tweaks to your presentation. Here are five tips to get you started.
1. Don't stop the veggies.
We start out great with informing our kids' palates. By feeding our kids fruits and veggies in infancy, we teach them to love produce, but we usually stop offering veggies as often once our kids eat table food. Don't do that. Take the same approach to vegetables as you did when your kids were still eating baby food. Offer veggies at every meal, and don't default to only preparing cooked vegetables for dinner.
2. Avoid food ruts.
When we feed our kids a variety of foods, they're less likely to become picky. The best way to avoid the chicken nugget and cheese stick rut is to offer different foods all the time. Think about offering your kids all different textures and colors of food. Balance a wide array of foods throughout the day, and don't limit kids to traditionally “kid-friendly” foods. Children's palates can handle the same foods as adult palates with a little training.
3. Mix up your presentation.
Boring steamed broccoli and carrot sticks only get you so far. Take the imagination you apply to your main course and apply it to your veggie sides. Serve a mozzarella and cherry tomato salad, whip up a vegetable gratin, or go crazy with dips for raw veggies. Kids often balk at vegetables served plain, so don't underestimate the power of spices and sauces to make vegetable dishes memorable. Kids appreciate more sophisticated dishes than you might expect.
4. Get everyone involved in prep.
The absolute best way to combat picky eating is teaching kids to cook. Take your kids to the grocery store and let them pick out a new vegetable. Figure out how to cook it together, and let your kids actively participate in the prep process. Kids, teens, and even reluctant spouses are much more likely to eat foods they feel ownership over. Even though it takes more time, cooking is more fun with family, and it's a great way to get everyone sharing about their day.
5. Don't entertain a power struggle.
There are tips and tricks to get your kids to eat better, but recognize that some kids are naturally picky when it comes to food. If you have a fussy eater, don't beat yourself up over it, and don't engage in a power struggle with your child. No one wins when mealtimes become a battle. Offer vegetables with every meal, and don't resort to cooking separate meals for every member of the family. If you're worried your child won't eat enough, make up for lost calories during planned snack times. Institute a one bite policy at family meals, and leave it at that.
Pull out those cookbooks and hit the produce aisle for some new inspiration. If you're bored with veggies, so is your family. Make mealtime fun again, and get everyone begging for their vegetables. It's possible with a little planning.
Heather Hale is a fourth-generation Montanan and mom to three crazy boys. She writes with her husband, Darreck Hale, about parenting and marriage at thesecretlifeofparents.com.