Pass the Veggies: Encouraging Children to Eat Vegetables
Hello! I am so happy to be guest blogging today for Kristina. As a long-time follower on her social media sites, I am so inspired by her passion and her work! As a fellow plant-based dietitian, I spend a lot of my time showing others the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle: from saving money at the grocery store to trying new foods and adapting favorite recipes, my passion lies in making a whole-food lifestyle simple- and delicious.
Typically, my adult clients are ready to jump in with both feet first, making extraordinary changes to their own health; but, they continue to feed their children “kid food”- processed, artificially-colored junk. It doesn’t have to be that way! Whether you claim to have a picky eater or not, most kids tend to shy away from vegetables and lean toward starch-heavy foods like pasta, rice, cereals and snacks. Trying to incorporate vegetables into their diet doesn’t have to end in a family feud. Adding in more vegetables benefits everyone! Plants provide nutrients required for healthy growth and development. After working with many parents on improving their children’s diets, here are my top tips and favorite ideas to get your kids to say, “Mom- can you pass the broccoli?”
- Make common vegetables more fun! There is a big difference between cucumber slices and cucumber ribbons. Since most kids eat both with their eyes and their taste buds, make the plate colorful and intriguing. Try using cookie cutters to make everyday vegetables more appealing. Yes, it takes a little extra work—but once they start to like the item, you can stop.
- Remember it takes an average of 10 times for everyone (kids included) to like a new food. Don’t be discouraged if your children turn their noses to squash the first time. Let them explore the new food on their own timeline, but keep offering it.
- Incorporate simple vegetables into your kid’s favorite meals. If your child enjoys macaroni and cheese, try adding chopped broccoli to the meal. Does your child like French fries? (Duh. Of course- every child likes French fries). Try roasting potatoes along with other vegetables- like cauliflower, butternut squash, and cut red peppers. They can enjoy the familiar taste of baked potatoes and -hopefully- explore the others.
- Get them involved in the preparation and cooking process! Let them pick out any vegetable they like in the produce section. You could even make it a game by picking a different color each week. Let them see you cook the vegetable, and if they are old enough, have them help.
5 Favorite Vegetable Meals
- Shred cooked spaghetti squash and add to regular pasta with marinara sauce. The ribbons of squash look just like noodles and are mild enough to pair with any sauce…or no sauce at all!
- Add vegetables to taco night! Place chopped olives, lettuce, tomatoes, corn and cooked peppers in small bowls at the table. Let your child decide which types of vegetables and how much to put in each taco. Letting kids take control of the meal increases your odds they will try new things.
- Try baked tofu sticks. Many of the parents I see complain that their children don’t enjoy the dry, hard to chew texture of animal protein. Try tofu instead. Its mild, creamy texture will please most palates. Bread and bake like you would chicken or fish sticks.
- Most children enjoy dipping their food. Make small falafel patties (with
chickpeas, chopped carrots and bell peppers) and have them dip into hummus. Or, try brown rice and vegetable patties and have them dip into their favorite condiment.
Lastly, I know that in recent years pureeing vegetables and adding them to sauces, brownies and casseroles has become popular. While it’s a great way to sneak in extra nutrition, I don’t think it’s the best way to teach your child the importance of eating vegetables. Sure, it adds vitamins that wouldn’t normally be in the food, but it doesn’t provide kids an opportunity to develop an appreciation for the taste and texture of vegetables. By allowing kids to see the different foods they’re consuming, it creates a stronger foundation for them to begin choosing more vegetables on their own.
Alexandra Caspero MA, RD, CLT is a Registered Dietitian and personal trainer who specializes in plant-based diets, sports nutrition, food intolerance and weight management. Her blog, Delicious Knowledge, focuses on making healthy vegetarian food easy- with delicious, nutritious recipes that highlight seasonal produce. Be sure to check out her social media pages and try some of her delicious recipes!