Parents and grandparents alike want to know how to get kids to eat more vegetables. It was the number one question my clients asked me when I was a pediatric dietitian over 20 years ago. Since then, the quest to find ways to get more vegetables into children has grown steadily.
I knew we had reached the tipping point after reading the results of a survey done by a major frozen vegetable company a few years ago. They found parents thought their children had a greater chance of becoming president of the United States than eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day! I can't find a link to the study, but the results stuck with me.
Are Vegetables and Obesity Linked?
I remember wondering at the time if this was a global problem? Have children around the world suddenly started turning up their noses at turnips? And if so, is there a link between the aversion to vegetables among children today and the growing rates of obesity?
My professional instincts told me it wasn't that simple. Modern lifestyles have changed dramatically since the dawn of the "Information/Digital Age" in the late 70's. The impact of all that technology and information has been universal, and rapid.
One could argue that the only reason parents worry about how many servings of vegetables their kids eat today is because they now know how many they should be eating. Technology has added to their frustration by making an abundant assortment of vegetables available all year round. All that's left is getting kids to eat them.
The USDA's new ChooseMyPlate eating plan did its part by recommending that we fill half our plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal. Here are some other proven strategies to help your little ones eat like bunnies.
Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat More Vegetables
- Imitation. Make sure the child sees you and others in the family eating the same vegetables.
- Smile! Ever see someone frowning while licking an ice cream cone? Children need to see the same expression of enjoyment when you are eating or serving them vegetables.
- Repeat exposure. Don't stop offering them, even if they have been rejected by the child in the past, and don't stop eating them yourself.
- Different textures. Vary the textures (and odors) by serving them raw, cooked, and frozen, such as frozen peas and carrots.
- Visual stimulation. Feature different colors and shapes to spark curiosity, such as lima beans, button mushrooms, and baby beets.
- Pair with favorites. Vegetables can be put on a pizza, in a dip, or under melted cheese that the child already likes.
- Offer any time. Dinner is typically the meal with the most food to eat, so vegetables have to compete with other preferred foods. Make vegetables available at other times of day, especially when kids are hungriest.
- Reward the willing. Research suggests a tangible reward or verbal praise can be effective in getting a child to try, and learn to like, a food they are not otherwise motivated to eat.
- Change the Name. Some vegetables may have unpleasant associations to a child, such as "squash" and "succotash."
- Let them help. Take them to the grocery store or farm market to select vegetables they'd like to try; let them use age-appropriate gadgets to peel, shred and chop.
- Don't deceive. If you incorporate vegetables in another dish, tell them you made "carrot-tomato sauce" or "carrot-raisin muffins." They need to appreciate that the vegetables are there, not be wary of them.
Which list is longer, the one of vegetables you do like or the ones you don't?
Find plenty of tips and recipes on vegetables from artichoke to zucchini at Fruits & Veggies More Matters
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