Thank goodness it’s summer!! Summertime not only means fun in the sun, but it also fresh and healthy foods. Vegetables like carrots, corn and cucumber are in season and perfect for the hot temperatures. But what if your child doesn’t like to eat vegetables? Have no fear! Your kid friendly dietitian is here with tips on how to get your child to eat their veggies.
Set an example: The best way to get your kids to eat their vegetables, is for them to see YOU eat your vegetables. You can’t expect them to eat these foods if they are an afterthought in your household. So parents, load your plate with veggies.
Make food fun: Relate healthy foods to fun things. For example: The broccoli that looks like trees can actually be trees in make-believe land. The low-fat ranch dip can be the lake and the baby carrots can be the boats in the lake. Making food fun makes it interesting and a great way to get some bites in.
Get them involved: Take your kids with you to the grocery store or farmers market and have them pick out something to cook for dinner. When this happens, they are more invested in the meal. Even have them to help with the prep work. Letting them clean the carrots or snap the green beans, gives them a sense of pride and makes them more enthusiastic at meal time.
Don’t force them to finish: Enforcing the “one bite rule” has shown some promise. The more exposure to the food, the more familiar they are with it. In turn, it becomes favorable to the child. On the other hand, forcing them to finish something they do not like may turn them away from anything that may be similar to that specific food. Forcing does not change the child’s behavior. It only creates a negative meal experience which will make him associate food with bad feelings and develop a picky eater.
Reward good behavior: Alternatively, creating positive food experiences can help to decrease picky eating tendencies. Giving kids stickers or other non-food items, after trying a bite of rejected food, makes it easier for them to try another food in the future.
Arrange food in a fun way on the plate: Although adults may like their food clumped next to each other, children love their foods designed into patterns. Shaping their vegetables into a smiley face or a heart is another way to make food fun.
Butter can be your friend: There is nothing wrong with adding additional flavors to veggies to make them more appealing to your kids. The most importing thing is to try to get them comfortable and familiar with the rejected foods. That may mean adding a little butter, low-fat cheese or garlic to their vegetables. Try and use ingredients that are close to real foods. Besides, they are kids and can handle the few extra calories. If it helps them to learn and enjoy a food they usually dislike, it’s a win/win.
Take advantage of their hunger: After school, kids are usually hungry and will eat whatever they see first. Why not take advantage of that with vegetables? Put a vegetable plate out with sliced, colorful veggies and low-fat dip. These finger foods are convenient and healthy. They can have other snacks, but at least they’ll get their vegetables in first.
Try a two or one deal: At your next meal, offer two colorful veggie options. For example: Ask your kids if they want carrots or broccoli or both. You will be amazed how often your children will get both when they feel the decision is theirs.
Blend them in: Secretly hiding the vegetables in smoothies may help them consume their recommended daily amount. Try adding veggies like spinach or kale into fruit smoothies for a nutrient packed treat. Your kids won’t even taste it. You may also find success mixing them with foods they already like, such as a topping on pizza, extra in spaghetti sauce and chili or blend them into a casserole or soup.
Cut back on junk: Giving your kids foods like chips, chicken nuggets and other processed foods can be counterproductive. By having fewer junk foods around, it makes them more open to choosing healthier foods like vegetables.
Keep at it: Some kids may be more difficult than others and require more patience and effort. It’s important to realize the habits they learn as a child remain with them into adulthood. Continue to try to set a good example and create fun and positive experiences around food. Your persistence will pay off!
By. Natasha Ashley, RD
Natasha Ashley is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Nutritionist who currently works as a Nutrition and Health Program Coordinator for Cornell University Cooperative Extension. Ms. Ashley is a South Florida native who has her Bachelors of Science degree from Florida State University and her Masters degree from New York University; both in Nutrition and Dietetics. She also is the owner of Natasha Ashley Nutrition, a nutrition consulting business, which focuses on weight loss, meal planning, and the prevention of chronic disease through nutrition. Ms. Ashley is the organizer of the African-Americans Dietitians Organization and also has her own podcast called Transplant Stamp. Natasha believes that health and wellness can be directly correlated to nutrition and that a nutritious diet can lead to a happy, healthy life.